Jan. 4, 2013
LOYOLA (10-3, 1-0) vs. YOUNGSTOWN STATE (8-6, 0-1)
January 5, 2013 - 3 p.m. CST
Chicago, Ill. - Gentile Arena
Radio: www.loyolaramblers.com - John Fitzgerald (play-by-play); Stephond Robinson (analyst)
Live Video: www.horizonleague.com
THE OPENING TIP
Loyola has won eight of its last nine games, its best stretch since taking 11 of 12 contests early in the 2009-10 season. A victory over Youngstown State would give the Ramblers a five-game winning streak, which would be their longest since a run of seven straight victories to open the 2010-11 campaign.
With a victory versus Youngstown State on Saturday, Loyola would start a Horizon League season with back-to-back wins for just the eighth time in school history and the first since 2003-04.
The Ramblers are coming off their first consecutive winning months since going 4-1 in November and 7-1 in December 2009.
With victories over Mississippi State and DePaul to its credit this year, Loyola has recorded at least two wins over BCS conference teams for the first time since the 1991-92 season when the Maroon and Gold prevailed over Northwestern and Purdue.
Loyola's 16-player roster has accumulated only 16 combined years of post-high school basketball experience tying it with Horizon League rival Wright State as the sixth-youngest team in NCAA Division I for 2012-13.
Gentile Arena has not been kind to the home team as the Ramblers have posted a 10-27 (.270) record on their home court in Horizon League play over the last four seasons.
In addition to having already surpassed their win total from a year ago (7), at 10-3 the Ramblers are off to their best start since opening the 2009-10 campaign with an 11-2 ledger.
Picked seventh in the 2012-13 Horizon League Preseason Poll, Loyola opened conference play by toppling preseason favorite and defending regular-season champion Valparaiso, 63-54, Wednesday evening. The Ramblers are receiving votes in this week's College Insider.com Mid-Major Top 25 Poll.
ABOUT THE PENGUINS
Youngstown State has won five of its last seven games, but suffered a heartbreaking, 65-60 loss at UIC in its Horizon League opener Wednesday night. Led by one of the top guards not only in the Horizon League, but also in the region, the Penguins receive 16.4 ppg from 6-foot junior Kendrick Perry, a First Team All-Horizon League pick a year ago. Blake Allen (12.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 3.1 apg) and Damian Eargle (11.7 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 3.4 bpg) also score in double digits for Youngstown State, which ranks second in the Horizon League in scoring offense (72.8 ppg). Loyola and YSU have one non-conference opponent in common as both squads dropped meetings at South Florida earlier this season.
Loyola and Youngstown State are meeting up for the 28th time in a tightly contested series that traces its roots back to 1956. The teams have split the last five meetings and last year, Youngstown State earned its first sweep of the season series since joining the Horizon League for the 2001-02 campaign. The Ramblers have posted a 10-4 record against the Penguins in games played at Gentile Arena, but Loyola, which owns a slim 14-13 advantage in the all-time series, has dropped two of the last three showdowns in Rogers Park. A year ago, Youngstown State shot a blistering 63 percent (31 for 49) from the field, including 56 percent (9 for 16) from three-point range, to earn an 80-63 victory at Gentile Arena on February 5, 2012. Kendrick Perry tallied a game-high 28 points and drained 11 of 14 of his field goal tries to negate an 18-point performance by Walt Gibler and a 16-point effort from Jordan Hicks for Loyola, which played without an injured Ben Averkamp.
Coaches constantly preach that a conference opener is just one game in a long season, but that contest has proven to mean so much more to Loyola in recent history. In fact, four of the last five times in which it has opened Horizon League play with a win, Loyola has finished tied for fourth or better. On the flip side, the last five times the Ramblers have started conference action on the wrong side of the ledger, they have never finished higher than eighth in the final Horizon League standings. Loyola has not finished higher than eighth in conference play since 2006-07 when it posted a 10-6 mark and placed third.
With a pair of free throws at the 19:18 mark of the second half the season opener against Toledo, senior forward Ben Averkamp became the 39th player in Loyola history to score 1,000 points. Now 23rd on the school's career scoring chart with 1,193 points, the 6-foot-8 Preseason Second Team All-Horizon League pick needs 29 points to tie former NBA Draft pick LaRue Martin for 22nd all-time with 1,222 points. In the Ramblers' victory versus Maryland-Eastern Shore on November 18, Averkamp collected his 500th career rebound making him just the 19th player in Loyola history, and the second in as many seasons, to top the 1,000-point and 500-rebound marks for his career. Last season, Walt Gibler joined that exclusive club.
A victory at Chicago State on January 20 would give the Ramblers 10 regular-season wins versus non-conference opponents for just the fifth time in school history and the first since 2006-07. In 1979-80, the Ramblers recorded 13 regular-season victories against non-conference foes.
GETTING IT DONE WITH DEFENSE
An old adage states that defense wins championships and if that proves to be true, the Ramblers should find themselves in the thick of the Horizon League race this winter. Under second-year head coach Porter Moser, Loyola has allowed only 52.0 ppg in its 17 victories, while also limiting opponents to 37 percent (332 for 906) shooting from the field and 26 percent (72 for 272) from beyond the arc. The Ramblers have held the opposition under 50 points on nine occasions under Moser. Since the start of the 2011-12 season, Loyola's defense has surrendered 55 points or less on 15 occasions after doing so just 15 times in the previous three seasons combined. Through games of December 30, Loyola ranked 30th in the nation in scoring defense at 57.8 ppg, and during its current four-game winning streak, has surrendered only 53.8 ppg and held teams to 39 percent (83 for 213) accuracy from the field and a paltry 24 percent (12 for 50) from long range.
TURK'S A TRIPLE THREAT
Freshman Devon Turk has provided the Ramblers with a bona fide three-point shooting threat, something that was sorely missing last season. The first Rambler true freshman to connect for at least one three-pointer in each of his first 10 games as a Rambler, the 6-foot-4 guard had his streak snapped when he was held without a trey at Saint Peter's on December 22. Turk has provided instant offense off the bench and ranks second among Horizon League freshmen with 8.3 ppg. Over the last six games, the Houston native is pitching in 12.0 ppg and shooting 51 percent (23 for 45) from the field, including a staggering 55 percent (16 for 29) from long distance. Turk ranks second in the Horizon League in three-point field goal percentage (.500) and he torched Mississippi State for a career-best 21 points, 18 of which came in the first half, for the highest-scoring output by a Loyola true freshman since Jordan Hicks tallied 23 points at Butler on February 15, 2009. The rookie is averaging 20.0 ppg and shooting a robust 71 percent (10 for 14) from long range in the last two home games. A sure sign of his ability to score in bunches can be found in Turk's point production versus his minutes played. His 21-point effort against Mississippi State came in only 24 minutes of action and he also had 19 points in 24 minutes versus Furman, 10 points in 22 minutes at Michigan State, and 10 points in 11 minutes at DePaul.
One year removed from shooting only 31 percent from three-point range and not having a single player knock down more than 26 tries from beyond the arc, Loyola is leading the Horizon League in three-point field goal percentage (.369). Should the Ramblers be able to shoot that effectively for the remainder of the season, they will challenge the school record of .374 set during the 1996-97 campaign. Two years ago, Loyola led the Horizon League by draining .362 of its triples tries. Turk has already dialed long distance 26 times this season, matching last season's team leaders (Averkamp and Joe Crisman).
THE FORECAST CALLS FOR PAYNE
After having not played in a college game in nearly two years, Cully Payne needed some time to shake off the rust, but now that the season is nearly halfway complete, he has proven to be a major addition to Porter Moser's roster. A transfer from the University of Iowa, who was a Sporting News Freshman All-Big Ten pick in 2009-10, the junior point guard has averaged 11.6 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 5.0 apg, and 1.5 spg, while shooting 39 percent (26 for 67) from the field, and 42 percent (16 for 38) from long distance over the last eight games. In his first five contests this season, Payne managed 4.4 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 4.2 apg, and 0.6 spg, and connected on only 20 percent (5 for 25) of his field goal attempts, including just 8 percent (1 for 12) from beyond the arc. In a 69-61 victory over DePaul last Saturday, the team's first win against the Blue Demons since 1989, Payne contributed 24 points, one shy of his career high set while playing for the Hawkeyes, and added four rebounds, four assists, and a pair of steals. Prior to that outburst, he had accounted for only 28 points in the previous four games combined. His 24 points against DePaul are the most by a Rambler guard since Geoff McCammon lit up Youngstown State for 27 points on January 27, 2011. A starter in all 50 of his career appearances, Payne was named Horizon League Newcomer of the Week on Monday thanks to his efforts against DePaul, and the Ramblers are now 9-1 this season when he scores six or more points and 4-0 when he scores in double digits. He is registering 18.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 5.5 apg, and 2.0 spg in his last pair of outings.
CULLY FOR COUSY
Cully Payne is one of over 80 candidates named to the watch list for the 2013 Bob Cousy Collegiate Point Guard of the Year Award, which recognizes the top point guard in college basketball. Payne is part of a watch list that will initially be pared down to 20 candidates in early January with the winner to be announced at the NCAA Men's Final Four in Atlanta. Payne is one of three Horizon League point guards named to the watch list, along with Ray McCallum (Detroit) and Kendrick Perry (Youngstown State).
BEN AT WORK
Last year, Ben Averkamp blossomed into one of the top players in the Horizon League and this season should be in the discussion for player of the year accolades. A 2011-12 Second Team All-Horizon League honoree, the 6-foot-8 captain was named to the USF Invitational All-Tournament Team in November after tallying 20.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.0 apg, and 2.0 bpg in three games. The Germantown, Wis., native, who along with Valpo's Ryan Broekhoff is one of only two players to rank among the top five in the Horizon League in both scoring (15.7 ppg) and rebounding (6.5 rpg) this season, is averaging 19.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 3.5 apg and 1.3 bpg in his last six Horizon League regular-season contests. An inside-outside threat, Averkamp has buried 9 of his last 25 shots (.360) from beyond the arc, and at No. 19 Michigan State on December 8, he matched a career high with four three-pointers en route to a game-high 25 points. Averkamp, who has scored in double digits in 19 of his last 22 appearances, failed to score 20 points in his first 69 career games, but has done so 13 times in his last 33 appearances. He recorded his first double-double (15 points, 10 rebounds) of the year, and seventh of his career, at Northern Illinois on November 24, and in his last three games home games versus League foes, is popping for 19.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 2.7 apg, and 1.0 bpg, while converting 51 percent (20 for 39) of his field goal attempts. A starter in 80 of his last 81 appearances, Averkamp is averaging 16.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.8 apg, and 1.2 bpg, and converting a ridiculous 69 percent (34 for 49) of his field goal attempts against Youngstown State in his career. Last season, he totaled 23 points at YSU but missed the game in Chicago due to concussion symptoms. Averkamp has converted 67 of his last 79 (.848) charity tosses.
MAKING THE GRADE
In addition to his exploits on the hardwood, Averkamp also is an exceptional student and campus leader who defines the term "student-athlete." In November, the senior forward was named one of 30 candidates for the Senior CLASS Award, which is presented annually to the NCAA Division I senior with notable achievements in four areas of excellence - community, character, classroom and competition. Among the select group of individuals on that list are Isaiah Canaan (Murray State), Drew Crawford (Northwestern), C.J. McCollum (Lehigh), Brandon Paul (Illinois) and Miles Plumlee (Duke), among others. In addition to being a Capital One Academic All-District V selection last year, Averkamp also was named to the Horizon League Men's Basketball All-Academic Team, National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Honors Court, I-AAA Men's Basketball Scholar-Athlete Team, National Jesuit Men's Basketball All-Academic Team, and Horizon League Academic Honor Roll.
Averkamp is one of 15 players in NCAA Division I who entered this season with a legitimate chance of topping 1,000 points, 750 rebounds, 100 assists, and 100 blocks for his career. Heading into the Valparaiso game, he has recorded 1,193 points, 557 rebounds, 160 assists, and 140 blocks.
THE SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS
Arguably the most improved player on the roster, Christian Thomas has gotten back into his comfort zone now that he is no longer being asked to play on the perimeter. The sophomore forward has emerged to become a force at both ends of the floor, especially in the last four games, during which he is averaging 12.8 ppg, 7.5 rpg, and sinking 64 percent (21 for 33) of his field goal attempts. Over the last four outings, he has totaled 51 points after notching 41 points in the first nine games of the season. After coming close on a handful of previous occasions, the St. Louis, Mo., native recorded his first career double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds at DePaul last Saturday. Two weeks ago, Thomas torched Mississippi State for 16 points (a career high) and six rebounds and in his last two games versus BCS conference opponents has put up 14.0 ppg and 8.0 rpg. A 57 percent (85 for 148) field goal shooter for his career, Thomas has contributed 8.5 ppg and 5.7 rpg, and hit 65 percent (31 for 46) of his shots in Loyola's 10 wins this year compared to 2.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg, and 25 percent (2 for 8) shooting in its defeats. Thomas has been a thorn in Valparaiso's side and after Wednesday's 14-point performance, he is tallying 11.7 ppg in three career meetings versus the Crusaders and 5.2 ppg against everyone else. In his career, Loyola has posted a 10-2 record when Thomas snags six or more rebounds.
FLIPPING THE SCRIPT
Although it has only played one Horizon League game this season, so far, Loyola has proven the prognosticators wrong. Picked to finish seventh in the 2012-13 Horizon League Preseason Poll, the Ramblers enter their Horizon League home opener atop the standings with a 10-3 overall record and a 1-0 conference record, one season after finishing last with a 7-23 overall mark and a 1-17 ledger in the League. Just once in Horizon League history has a team gone from worst to first, when Xavier rebounded from a 0-5 finish in 1979-80 to win the regular-season title with an 8-3 mark in 1980-81.
MAYBE IT IS HOW YOU START
Getting off to a strong start has paved the way to success for Loyola in recent history as it has gone 26-2 (.929) when leading at the half since the start of the 2010-11 season. Since the outset of the 2008-09 campaign, the Ramblers are 47-7 (.870) when leading at the break.
GOLDEN ANNIVERSARY OF GREATNESS
The 2012-13 season marks the 50th anniversary of Loyola's 1963 NCAA Men's Basketball Championship. To this day, Loyola remains the only school in the state of Illinois to have won a NCAA Division I men's basketball title. A season-long celebration is planned to commemorate the remarkable accomplishments of that team. Earlier this season, Loyola unveiled a website dedicated to the 1963 team, www.Loyola63.com. The site features articles, statistics, biographies, photos and video interviews with players from that historic squad.
In August, Loyola took a 13-day trip to Italy, where it played four games and visited a handful of cities (Rome, Florence, Venice, Como and Pisa). During that trip, the team soaked up the Italian culture, did plenty of sightseeing, and used the time to bond both on and off the court. The Ramblers posted a 3-1 ledger on their four-game trip to Italy and three newcomers - Jeff White (11.7 ppg), Matt O'Leary (11.3 ppg) and Devon Turk (11.3 ppg) - averaged double figures in scoring, while Cully Payne handed out 9.7 apg, three times hitting double digits in helpers.
PAYNE, PICKETT SIGN FOR 2013-14 SEASON
In November, Loyola announced that Quinten Payne and Jordan Pickett had signed National Letters of Intent to attend the University and play basketball starting next fall. Payne, the younger brother of Loyola junior guard Cully Payne, is a 6-foot-4 guard who averaged 16.9 ppg, 6.7 rpg, and 3.1 apg at St. Charles North High School in St. Charles, Ill., last season. A 6-foot-1 guard, Pickett put up gaudy numbers last year at University High School, going for 26.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.5 apg, and 3.0 spg. Both players are ranked among the top 15 in their respective state by ESPN.
NOT WITHOUT A HITCH
Head athletic trainer Dr. Tom Hitcho has worked 1,030 consecutive Loyola men's basketball games heading into Saturday's contest against his alma mater, Youngstown State. Hired prior to the 1977-78 season, Hitcho has not missed a Rambler game in 36 years, witnessing 478 victories.
Loyola has won three straight road games for the first time since December 2009 ... The Ramblers are in the middle of a stretch in which they play seven of nine games away from home ... If you throw out an 81-78 victory over Tennessee Tech, Loyola's stingy defense is allowing only 48.0 ppg at home this season.
RAMBLERS ON THE RADIO
All Loyola men's basketball games can be heard this season on the Rambler Network, which is available at www.loyolaramblers.com by clicking on the Rambler Network tab on the home page.