LOYOLA (10-7) at CHICAGO STATE (5-14)
January 20, 2013 - 7:05 p.m. CST
Chicago, Ill. - Jones Convocation Center
Radio: www.loyolaramblers.com - John Fitzgerald (play-by-play); Stephond Robinson (analyst)
TV: Lakeshore Public Television - Scott Slocum (play-by-play); Kenny McReynolds (analyst)
Live Video: None
THE OPENING TIP
Loyola, which has won five of its last eight games away from home, visits Chicago State, which will be playing for a second straight day, on Sunday evening. A year ago, the Ramblers went just 3-14 on the road.
The Ramblers have won four of their last six games against teams from the Land of Lincoln, with both losses coming at UIC.
Loyola, which has already surpassed its win total from a year ago (7), has prevailed in 13 of its last 16 (.813) contests versus non-Horizon League competition.
One of the top defensive teams in the country, Loyola enters Sunday's game ranked No. 35 in the nation in scoring defense, yielding just 58.6 ppg. In fact, four Horizon League teams rank among the top 56 in NCAA Division I in scoring defense, with Wright State leading the way at No. 10 (55.8 ppg).
After opening the season with a 10-3 mark, the Ramblers have dropped their last four games by a combined 18 points, with three of the four setbacks coming by a grand total of five points.
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.
Following Wednesday's game at Cleveland State, the Ramblers will close out the 2012-13 regular season by playing seven of their final 11 contests at Gentile Arena.
ABOUT THE COUGARS
Junior forward Matt Dixon, a transfer from Sauk Valley Community College, leads Chicago State in both scoring and rebounding, with averages of 10.1 points and 6.9 rebounds per outing. Heading into Saturday's Great West Conference home opener against Houston Baptist, the Cougars had posted a 4-1 record at the Jones Convocation Center this season. Chicago State has dropped six of its last eight games entering the contest versus Houston Baptist. Turnovers have plagued the Cougars as they are coughing up the ball over 16 times per game.
This is the 10th meeting between Loyola and Chicago State and the series dates back to 1986. The Ramblers hold a commanding 8-1 edge in the all-time series and have won the last two meetings, including a 64-49 decision at Gentile Arena last December. In that contest, both Ben Averkamp (21 points, 10 rebounds) and Walt Gibler (16 points, 10 boards) recorded double-doubles and a stingy Rambler defense limited Chicago State to 35 percent shooting from the field and just 2 for 15 (.133) from three-point range. Loyola is 2-1 all-time against the Cougars on CSU's home court and came up on the wrong end of a 78-76 decision at the Jacoby-Dickens Center on November 29, 2000.
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 21st on the school's career scoring chart with 1,244 points, the 6-foot-8 Preseason Second Team All-Horizon League pick needs 20 points to tie Gerald Hayward for 20th all-time with 1,264 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 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.
LAND OF THE FREE
Loyola ranks No. 28 in the country with a 74.6 percent free throw percentage, and over the last four games, the Ramblers are converting 87.8 percent (43 for 49) of their foul shots. A year ago, Loyola knocked down 69.6 percent of its tosses from the charity stripe.
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. In two seasons under 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 January 17, Loyola ranked 35th in the nation in scoring defense at 58.6 ppg, and in its last three non-league games, has given up only 53.7 ppg and held teams to 40 percent (63 for 157) accuracy from the field and 23 percent (8 for 35) from long range.
TURK'S A TRIPLE THREAT
Freshman Devon Turk has given the Ramblers a bona fide three-point shooting threat, something that was sorely missing last season. The first 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, but he has knocked down multiple triples in five of the last six games. Turk has provided instant offense off the bench and ranks second among Horizon League freshmen with 8.6 ppg. Over the last five non-conference games, the Houston native is pitching in 12.6 ppg and shooting 51 percent (20 for 39) from the field, including 58 percent (14 for 24) from long distance. Turk ranks second in the Horizon League in three-point field goal percentage (.468) 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. 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, and 10 points in 11 minutes at DePaul. Strangely enough though, Loyola is just 3-4 when Turk scores in double figures.
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 (.361). Should the Ramblers be able to shoot that effectively for the remainder of the season, they could challenge the school record of .374 set during the 1996-97 campaign. Two years ago, Loyola led the Horizon League by draining 36.2 percent of its triple tries. Turk has already dialed long distance 36 times this season.
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 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 9.8 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 4.8 apg, and 1.2 spg, while shooting 34 percent (34 for 101) from the field, and 35 percent (20 for 57) from long distance over the last 12 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, 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. 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 54 of his career appearances, the Ramblers are now 9-3 this season when he scores six or more points and 4-1 when he scores in double digits. He is registering 12.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 5.3 apg, and 1.5 spg, while shooting 41 percent (15 for 37) from the field and 39 percent (9 for 23) from long distance, in the last four road games after going for 7.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, and 5.0 apg, and hitting just 3 of 18 shots (.167) from the field in his previous two road contests. Payne has also converted 14 of his last 16 (.875) attempts from the foul line and is posting 13.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg, and 3.7 apg in three games versus teams from the Land of Lincoln. After hitting just 1 of his first 7 (.143) three-pointers on the road, Payne has knocked down 13 of his last 36 (.361).
During its current four-game losing skid, Loyola has managed 57.8 ppg, on 39 percent (82 for 212) shooting from the field, and 33 percent (24 for 72) accuracy from three-point range, figures that are a drop from 63.5 ppg, 44 percent (287 for 658), and 37 percent (86 for 233) from the first 13 contests. Opponents are posting 62.2 ppg and connecting on 45 percent (94 for 209) of their field goal attempts after producing just 57.5 ppg on 40 percent (272 for 677) shooting in the first 13 games of the year.
BEN AT WORK
A year ago, Ben Averkamp emerged as one of the top players in the conference and this season his name should be in the discussion for Horizon League Player of the Year. The senior captain has embraced the role of leader for a young team that has already surpassed its win total from last season. Earlier this season, the 6-foot-8 forward was named to the USF Invitational All-Tournament Team after putting up 20.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.0 apg, and 2.0 bpg in three games. One of only two players to rank among the top five in the Horizon League in both scoring (15.0 ppg) and rebounding (6.2 rpg), the Germantown, Wis., native has been a staple in the Loyola lineup, earning a starting nod in 84 of his last 85 appearances. An inside-outside threat, Averkamp connected for four three-point field goals en route to 25 points at No. 19 Michigan State last month, but after opening the year 10 for 24 (.417) from beyond the arc, has drained just 1 of his last 11 (.091) triple tries. A year ago, Averkamp totaled 21 points, 10 rebounds and a pair of assists in the Ramblers' victory over Chicago State and in his last seven contests versus in-state rivals, is pitching in 15.0 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 2.6 apg, and 1.1 bpg. Over his last 17 games against teams from outside the Horizon League, Averkamp, who has reached double figures in scoring in four of the last five games, is notching 17.9 ppg and 7.0 rpg. Despite failing to score 20 or more points in his first 69 appearances as a Rambler, Averkamp has topped the 20-point plateau 13 times in his last 37 outings, including three times this season.
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. He was named Horizon League Male Scholar-Athlete of the Month in both November and December this season.
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 Chicago State game, he has recorded 1,244 points, 579 rebounds, 164 assists, and 142 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 eight games, during which he is averaging 11.4 ppg, 6.9 rpg, and sinking 58 percent (33 for 57) of his field goal attempts. The St. Louis native, who managed just 4.6 ppg and 4.0 rpg in the season's first nine games, has notched a double-double twice in the last seven games and is coming off of a 16-point performance, which matches a career high, at UIC. Last month, Thomas torched Mississippi State for 16 points and six rebounds and in his last two games versus BCS conference opponents has put up 14.0 ppg and 8.0 rpg. A 56 percent (97 for 172) field goal shooter for his career, Thomas has contributed 14.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg, and shot a blistering 67 percent (8 for 12) from the field and 93 percent (13 for 14) from the free throw line in the last pair of outings. Thomas, who has scored in double figures six times in the last eight games, is pitching in 12.0 ppg and 6.7 rpg, while converting an astounding 73 percent (11 for 15) of his attempts from the field, against teams from the state of Illinois this season. In his career, Loyola has posted a 10-4 record when Thomas snags six or more rebounds.
Turk is on his way to becoming the most prolific three-point shooter as a freshman in program history as he enters Sunday's game just six triples short of Brian Wolf's record of 42 set in 1989-90. The freshman guard's 36 treys are the most by a Rambler freshman since Chris Williams tossed in 41 treys in 1998-99, and that mark also surpasses the total of last season's team leaders, Ben Averkamp (26) and Joe Crisman (26).
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 26-4 (.867) when leading at the half since the start of the 2010-11 season. Since the outset of the 2008-09 campaign, the Ramblers are 47-9 (.839) when leading at the break, but have stumbled in each of the last two games in which they held a halftime edge - versus Youngstown State and Wright State.
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 1,034 consecutive Loyola men's basketball games heading into Sunday's contest at Chicago State. Hired prior to the 1977-78 season, Hitcho has not missed a Rambler game in 36 years, witnessing 478 victories.
Sophomore guard Joe Crisman is shooting a remarkable 59 percent (16 for 29) from the field and 54 percent (7 for 13) from long distance at Gentile Arena this season ... Loyola will need to win its remaining games in January to avoid its first losing month of the season ... Four different players have led the team in scoring in the last six games.
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.