By Kevin Sweeney
Porter Moser said in the lead-up to Thursday’s game against SIU against that there would be no “fluffy reunion” between him and former top assistant Bryan Mullins.
It felt more like a prize fight.
The Ramblers pulled away late in an old-fashioned Missouri Valley slugfest, beating the Salukis 64-48 at Gentile Arena Thursday night. Freshman sensation Marquise Kennedy led the way for LUC with 17 points, continuing strong play of late as the Ramblers fight for position atop the MVC. Tate Hall added 16 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists for Loyola (12-6, 4-1 MVC).
Southern Illinois’ resolve was on full display, especially early. The Salukis had a strong game plan to handle preseason MVC Player of the Year Cameron Krutwig despite being undermanned up front, sending double-teams every time Krutwig caught it on the block. The star junior was held scoreless for the first 17 minutes of action and scored just 8 points in this one.
“They were really physical with him,” Loyola head coach Porter Moser said of SIU’s gameplan with Krutwig. Meanwhile, Saluki head coach Bryan Mullins noted that it helped to know some of Krutwig’s tendencies given his familiarity with his former player.
Still, shutting down Krutwig wasn’t enough to shut down Loyola. Kennedy’s strong play of late continued into this one, as the talented freshman point guard provided a major spark with 17 points off the bench, including a pair of threes. He has now scored 13 points or more in three of his last four games as he shifts into a 6th man role with JUCO product Keith Clemons (13 points) starting at point guard.
Despite inconsistency on the offensive end, the Salukis hung in, battling to within five at halftime and trailing by just eight with under 10 minutes to play. But an inability to get anything easy on the offensive end eventually doomed SIU, as the Ramblers went on an 11-0 run that spanned almost 10 minutes of game action to pull away as the game came down the stretch. When asked about the second-half offensive struggles, Mullins said Loyola did a nice job keeping his club out of the paint– particularly in the second half. -That, combined with a 5-26 day from beyond the arc, makes it tough to win on the road.
The win moves Loyola to 4-1 in Valley play, pushing the Ramblers into a tie for first place with Northern Iowa and Bradley. They’ll hit the road this weekend to take on Illinois State in Normal on Sunday.
Meanwhile, SIU falls to 2-3 in conference. Eric McGill led the way for the Salukis with 14 points on 7-10 shooting.