Even though Loyola is now 10 games into the season it felt on Wednesday as if the Ramblers were just starting 2010-11 again. A light crowd watched as Loyola put a new starting lineup on the court and Jim Whitesell rolled out a new rotation in a 78-50 victory over SIU Edwardsville at the Gentile Center.
Part of it came from necessity. Walt Gibler and Jordan Hicks, two key rotation guys, are occupying seats on the bench with injuries, so new players have to step up. But part of it was something else, maybe a sense that, even with a 7-2 record coming into the game, something besides a chance for two league victories had slipped away during those two games against Butler and Valparaiso.
And so redshirt freshman Gabe Kindred started the game for the Ramblers in place of Courtney Stanley. On the wings, with Hicks out due to a left foot injury that could potentially sideline him for the season again, Geoff McCammon and Terrance Hill started alongside each other for the first time this season.
"It's different coming in right off the bat," Kindred said. "I came off the bench the last couple games. I haven't started. It was easy because I felt confident coming in and coming to play."
Still, things were rocky at first. The Ramblers struggled with the new roles and rotations. The defense wasn't quite as crisp, especially on close outs and in transition, the offense not as smooth and the first half ended with Loyola holding just a five-point advantage, 35-30, against one of the worst teams in Division I.
But the second half was a different story. Chim Kadima started the second half with McCammon in foul trouble and gave the Ramblers a lift. He and Kindred give the team a different type of feel. Probably because of the youth of the two freshman there's more bounce in their step on the court.
Kindred scored seven of his game-high 17 points in the first five minutes of the second half as the Ramblers opened with a 12-0 run to start the second half, which ballooned their lead to 17. He did it in a variety of ways too. The 6'1 guard scored going to the rim, from the three-point line and from the free throw line, where he shot a very refreshing 8-8.
Then other people started chipping in. Shaun Adams gave Whitesell 13 solid minutes off the bench. He went 2-2 from beyond the arc and scored eight points. While Kadima struggled from the field, shooting 3-12, he also grabbed six boards and stole a pass. Plus, the length and athleticism of Kadima was one of the keys as the Ramblers held SIU-E to just 26.7 percent shooting from the field in the second 20 minutes.
"With Jordan going out, who are the obvious guys you're going to have to play? Kadima and Adams, is kind of what you're going to have to play there because that's how Jordan plays," Whitesell said. "Their size is not that far off. Shaun's game is a little like Jordan's a little different, but there are some similarities there."
Other players helped out too. With Gibler out, John Benkoske came in and played 15 minutes of solid defense and also went 2-2 from the floor for four points.
And then the familiar names did their part. Hill played a team-high 29 minutes, and while he forced some shots in the first half as the team struggled to find its rhythm, he calmed down to score 12 points on 6-14 shooting and also had six boards and three assists. Stanley came off the bench to dish out six assists while committing just one turnover and Andy Polka grabbed 10 boards.
In the end the reboot worked. The Ramblers got a result they must be pleased with, for a 28-point victory over anyone is nothing to complain about. Of course, not every night is going to against SIU-E. In fact, come Saturday against Kansas State players like Kindred, Kadima and Adams are going to be facing their toughest test of the season.
It'll be good for them. It'll force them to show if they're really ready and if Loyola can take a next step with a little bit different of a team than it originally intended. Because the season started again tonight.