March 1, 2014
CHICAGO - Loyola cut an 18-point, second-half deficit down to one but D.J. Balentine hit a big basket as Evansville held on for a 75-72 win over the Ramblers today in the regular-season finale for both teams at Gentile Arena. Loyola heads to Arch Madness with a 9-21 (4-14 MVC) record while the Aces improve to 13-18 (6-12).
"I challenged our guys to bottle the energy that we played with over the last six minutes and bring that to the tournament with them," said head coach Porter Moser. "We started the second half by missing our first eight shots and I thought that affected our defense and you cannot play with a `woe is me' attitude."
After a pregame ceremony to honor senior Derrick Boone, Bill Clark and Tony Nixon, Evansville used an 8-0 run to take an early 12-4 lead. The lead grew to 12 (18-6) on two Balentine free throws, as Loyola struggled to settle in, but a tip-dunk by Cody Johnson seemed to infuse some energy and Joe Crisman and Jeff White followed up the dunk with baskets to make it a 26-20 game with 5:01 left. Balentine answered with a three-pointer and the visitors took a 37-27 lead into halftime after a Duane Gibson basket with 35 seconds left.
Looking to grab the momentum early in the second half, Loyola saw Evansville open with a flourish, as the Aces scored the first eight points of the period to open their largest lead of the game, 45-27, at the 16:12 mark. Johnson buried a triple to stem the tide but Evansville had an answer for each Loyola charge and led by 12 (64-52) with 5:29 left after a Jaylon Moore basket.
A three-point play from Milton Doyle cut the deficit to nine and a three-pointer from Christian Thomas later cut the Evansville lead to six (71-65) with 1:08 left. After Evansville had to burn a pair of timeouts trying to get the ball in, Adam Wing missed a lay-up and two Doyle free throws made it a four-point game with 52 seconds left. Evansville promptly turned it over trying to pass out of a trap and Crisman converted a three-point play to draw the Ramblers within one, 71-70, with 48 seconds to play.
Loyola needed a stop but Balentine converted a tough, reverse lay-up to bump the lead back to three with 15 ticks on the clock. Doyle converted a pair from the stripe to make it a one-point game again before Gibson answered with pair of charity tosses to make it 75-72 and the Ramblers could not find the tying three-pointer.
The Ramblers shot 45% as a team but saw the visitors blaze the nets at a 57% clip.
Crisman followed up a strong performance at Missouri State with a career-high, 20-point performance today. He was joined in double figures by Thomas (17 points) and Doyle (13 points, all in the second half). Balentine, the MVC's leading scorer, led Evansville with 24 points.
Loyola opens Arch Madness as the No. 10 seed and will face seventh-seeded Bradley on Thursday night. Tip off from the Scottrade Center in St. Louis is scheduled for 8:30 p.m.