Three close home losses for Chicago


LAS VEGAS - NOVEMBER 27: Head coach Homer Drew of the Valparaiso Crusaders talks to Kevin Van Wijk  during their game against the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders during the fourth round of the Las Vegas Invitational at The Orleans Arena November 27, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Loyola, UIC and Chicago State all played at home on Saturday afternoon. Unfortunately none of them were able to defend their home court. Each suffered a close loss. For each it means something a little different, but the inability to defend the home court and get quality wins is a troubling early season theme for these schools.

Here's a recap of each of the three games.
Loyola vs. Valparaiso - Due to the weather, and the appearance of Kyle Whelliston, I made the short trip over to see the Ramblers. While Jim Whitesell said after wards that his team didn't suffer from a post-Butler hangover, it certainly seemed like they failed to focus during parts of the game.
Loyola played possibly its worst game of the season and lost 66-56. The Ramblers missed nine free throws, while shooting 50 percent from the line, and struggled to find any offensive flow against the stifling perimeter defense of the Crusaders. 
The loss dropped the Ramblers to 7-2 overall on the season and 0-2 in conference. It also probably leaves fans of the program wondering if the 7-0 record to start the season really was a mirage.

Some caution should be extended to that train of thought because Butler and Valparaiso are probably the second and third best teams in the Horizon League behind still undefeated Cleveland State. Both are solid programs that have played competitive basketball against tough opponents. Also, Loyola played both with limited availability from Walt Gibler. Gibler played sparingly against the Bulldogs and didn't play at all against the Crusaders on Saturday.

Still, Whitesell seemed frustrated that the Crusaders were able to disrupt Loyola's offense so much. Geoff McCammon struggled for the second game in a row, as he shot 2-of-14 from the field. If this malaise extends through the game against SIU-Edwardsville, a team the Ramblers should crush on Wednesday, expect to see some big changes to Loyola's rotation.
Loyola now has three and a half weeks to figure it out before what could be a potentially huge game at Cleveland State on Dec. 30.
UIC vs. Akron - For the second game in a row the Flames had a big halftime lead. And for the second game in a row UIC found itself on the wrong side of the final score. The Flames blew a 32-20 halftime lead to fall 54-52 to the Zips at the Pavilion.
The Flames had 17 turnovers in the game. Darrin Williams came off the bench and scored 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting. According to the school's release, Howard Moore had this to say afterwards:
"Our guys came out with a sense of urgency, trying to get a little bit of redemption from Thursday. We came out with a good spark, and with a purpose.  We built a double-digit halftime lead again, and in the locker room, we talked about not letting our lead or intensity slip." 
"In the second half, we lost some opportunities offensively, and we didn't execute the way we did in the first half.  We allowed Akron to disrupt us, and get us out of our flow.  The result was another heartbreaking loss.  We talk about urgency every day; it has to show up in everything you do.  We've got to continue to develop good habits, and when we do, we'll be one of those teams that pulls out a close game in the end."
Robo Kreps had his second difficult shooting game as well. He finished 5-of-12 from the field and scored 14 points. Kreps also had five turnovers.
For UIC it's good that they've been competitive in these games. The Flames are continuing to improve and they just need to find consistency. That's a big step for a team to take in terms of their development on the court, and it's a battle Moore will have to fight all season with this UIC squad.
Chicago State vs. Southern Illinois - The Cougars returned home after what must've felt like an eternity on the road and fell to the Salukis 74-61. Carl Montgomery scored a career-high 29 points, but it wasn't enough to lift Chicago State to victory.
Victor Scott and Sean Montgomery both had 10 points as well for the Cougars. Another plus for the Cougars was that they had just 10 turnovers as a team. The only downside was that Southern Illinois managed to grab 18 rebounds, which helped the Salukis take 15 more shots and that ended up being the difference in the game.
Even though the Cougars dropped this one, it appears that Tracy Dildy has his team moving in the right direction and that they'll be competitive during Great West Conference play this season. Unfortunately for Chicago State it's time to go back on the road until Utah Valley comes to town to open up conference play on January 8.

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