Manny Pacquiao is fighting tonight, and while the Loyola Ramblers don't have a knockout punch like the great boxer, they have the rolling punches of many different scorers to help them pull out victories like their 86-74 triumph over Indiana State on Saturday in the Nick Kladis Classic.
The Ramblers had five players in double figures and it seemed like each time they needed a basket another player stepped up. The return of Jordan Hicks has given Loyola's offense another dimension. He's a very efficient scorer and when he gets opportunities in the offense he takes advantage of them. Hicks led all scorers against the Sycamores with 19 points on only 7 shots. He got his points by going 6-7 from the field, 3-4 from beyond the arc and 4-6 from the free throw line. That's impressive scoring.
I also find it interesting that with all the scorers the Ramblers have at the four other positions, Jim Whitesell and his staff are very willing to sacrifice scoring at the point guard position for consistency and solid defensive play. Courtney Stanley and Denzel Brito don't do much in terms of scoring, but they reliably get Loyola into its offense and find the open shooter. Tonight the two of them combined for 8 points, but also a 6-to-2 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Now let's take a look at the "Loyola Factors" for the game:
1. Turnovers less than 19 percent? Yes. Loyola had 10 turnovers in 66 possessions or 15 percent. That's great and it started with the point guard play of Stanley and Brito. Andy Polka had three turnovers, including one really dumb one right before halftime on a ball going out of bounds that he shouldn't have tried to save, and Geoff McCammon had three as well, along with 15 points. Most of McCammon's turnovers seemed to come when he tried to do too much and didn't take what the offense gave him. When he got open looks from three in the flow of the offense he was deadly. I hope he concentrates on taking those instead of forcing things one-on-one.
2. Pound the ball inside? Yes. Simply take a look at the numbers for the Ramblers - Ben Averkamp had 13 points, Walt Gibler had 10 and Loyola attempted 25 free throws compared to 14 for Indiana State. It's interesting too because Gibler and Averkamp are both showing a nice stroke from the three-point line as well. Makes them that more dangerous. The Averkamp play I was most impressed with tonight though? His steal at the top of the key.
3. Consistency from half to half? No. This is what almost lost the game for Loyola. After building a 42-27 halftime advantage the Ramblers actually lost the second half 47-44. While it's good that the Ramblers were able to withstand the Sycamores' runs, play like that might cost Loyola against a better opponent.
4. Clog the middle of defense? Eh. The 8.5 percent block percentage isn't great, but it's not bad either. Loyola definitely was playing some good defense. There were times though when Indiana State's center Myles Walker seemed to get in a good rhythm. He finished with 12 points on the night. Allowing the Sycamores to shoot 45.8 percent isn't great either. Loyola did its work on the defensive end tonight by not fouling.
2.5 out of 4 apparently equaled a solid 12-point victory tonight. The Ramblers go for 3-0 and the tournament championship tomorrow evening against Texas Pan-American. A surprise 67-53 victor over Eastern Kentucky in the first game of Saturday's double-header.