LOYOLA (6-2) at No. 19/17 MICHIGAN STATE (7-2)
December 8, 2012 - 2 p.m. EST
East Lansing, Mich. - Breslin Center
Radio: www.loyolaramblers.com - John Fitzgerald (play-by-play), Stephond Robinson (analyst)
TV: Big Ten Network - Tom Hamilton (play-by-play), Sam Vincent (analyst)
Live Video: None
THE OPENING TIP
Loyola is seeking its fifth consecutive victory, which would give the Ramblers their longest winning streak since capturing the first seven contests of the 2010-11 season. In this week's CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25 Poll, Loyola was among others receiving votes.
Saturday's game at No. 19 Michigan State is the Ramblers' first outing versus a team ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 since a 68-60 loss to then-No. 5 Kansas State on December 11, 2010. Loyola is 33-110 all-time against ranked opponents but has two wins over ranked teams to its credit since 2007 (both at then-No. 15 Butler in 2007 and 2009).
Last season, Loyola did not record its sixth win until February 11. This year's squad garnered win number six on December 1. With a 6-2 ledger through games of December 5, the Ramblers had a better record than traditional powers Kentucky (5-3) and UCLA (5-3).
Loyola's 6-2 start is its second-best in the last six seasons, surpassed only by a 7-1 start in 2010-11.
Success against non-conference foes has been the norm for Loyola recently as the Ramblers are 11-2 (.846) in their last 13 games versus non-Horizon League opponents and have won five consecutive non-conference games in the month of December.
A smothering defense has keyed Loyola's current four-game winning streak and the Ramblers are surrendering only 55.0 ppg and allowing opponents to shoot a paltry 38 percent (81 for 211) from the field and 34 percent (23 for 68) from three-point territory during that stretch.
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.
True freshmen have accounted for 35 percent (183 of 520) of Loyola's points through eight games.
ABOUT THE SPARTANS
Michigan State has won its last two games, over Nicholls State and Arkansas-Pine Bluff, by an average of 38.5 points and is ranked No. 19 in the latest Associated Press Top 25 Poll and No. 17 in the ESPN Coaches' Poll. Traditionally one of the top defensive and rebounding teams in the country, this season has been no different for coach Tom Izzo's Spartans who are limiting opponents to 55.9 ppg and enter Saturday's game with a +10.6 rebounding margin. Junior guard Keith Appling leads MSU, which has won 67 of its last 68 non-conference home games, with 15.3 ppg.
Loyola and Michigan State are meeting for the 11th time overall and first since December 17, 2002, in a series that dates back to 1928. The Ramblers have dropped the last three meetings with the Spartans and are seeking their first-ever win over the Green and White in East Lansing, Mich. Loyola's last victory in the series came all the way back on January 2, 1939 (46-44). When the teams last met at the Breslin Center, in 2002, David Bailey scored a team-high 15 points for Loyola, but 15th-ranked Michigan State shot 52 percent from the field and received 18 points from Chris Hill to earn an 80-54 victory.
RAMBLERS VERSUS THE B1G
Versus current members of the Big Ten Conference, Loyola has compiled a 36-82 (.305) record and has faced every member institution, with the exception of Penn State, at least once. The Ramblers, who have dropped five straight meetings with Big Ten teams, are seeking their first win versus a Big Ten opponent since an 80-65 victory over Purdue on December 11, 2005. Loyola has dropped 10 straight road games to Big Ten foes, with its last win on enemy hardwood coming in the form of a 70-69 decision at Northwestern on November 28, 1994. In his career as a head coach, Porter Moser is 2-3 all-time versus Big Ten schools, with wins over Northwestern and Penn State to his credit.
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 29th on the school's career scoring chart with 1,121 points, the 6-foot-8 Preseason Second Team All-Horizon League pick needs 15 points to tie Bernard Jackson for 28th all-time with 1,136 points. In the Ramblers' victory versus Maryland-Eastern Shore, 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.
RAMBLERS AGAINST RANKED OPPONENTS
Loyola, which is 33-110 (.231) all-time against ranked opponents, is seeking its first win over an Associated Press Top 25 team since a 62-57 victory at then-No. 15 Butler on February 15, 2009. Not since an 83-82 thriller versus then-No. 9 Illinois on December 27, 1986 have the Ramblers won a game versus a ranked Big Ten team. Loyola is 2-7 in its last nine games against ranked teams with both wins coming at then-No. 15 Butler, in 2007 and 2009.
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 24-1 (.960) when leading at the half since the start of the 2010-11 season. Since the outset of the 2008-09 campaign, the Ramblers are 45-6 (.882) when leading at the break.
Fifty years ago, Loyola played one of the most important, yet oftentimes overlooked, games in the history of college basketball and the civil rights movement when it faced Mississippi State on March 15, 1963, at Jenison Field House in East Lansing, Mich., in the NCAA Regional Semifinal Round. Although the Ramblers won that contest, 61-51, and would go on to win the NCAA Championship, the game has meant much more than just a victory. Head coach George Ireland's team featured four African-American starters (Jerry Harkness, Les Hunter, Ron Miller, and Vic Rouse), which was a rarity in that era, while Mississippi State's roster was all white. Before an injunction that would have prevented the team from playing an integrated Rambler squad could be served by Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett, the Maroons (as they were then known) escaped town under the cover of darkness to play the game and forever changed college basketball and life in Mississippi.
TURK'S A TRIPLE THREAT
Regarded as one of the top shooters to come out of Houston, Texas last year, freshman Devon Turk has lived up to his billing as a bona-fide long-range threat so far in his rookie campaign. The 6-foot-4 sharpshooter is coming off a season-best, 19-point performance against Furman on December 1, an effort that is the best by a Rambler true freshman since Jordan Hicks popped for 23 points in an upset win at No. 15 Butler on February 15, 2009. Turk is the first-ever Loyola true freshman to hit at least one three-point field goal in each of his first eight games as a Rambler and his five triples against Furman are the most since Geoff McCammon went 5 for 5 from beyond the arc at UIC on February 16, 2011. In the last two games, Turk is putting up 13.0 ppg and is knocking down 60 percent of his shots from both the field (9 for 15) and three-point land (6 for 10).
Fifth-year senior Jordan Hicks has shaken off a brief two-game slump in which he totaled just four points against Maryland-Eastern Shore and Northern Illinois to average 13.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, and 1.5 apg, while converting 58 percent (11 for 19) of his field goal tries, including 56 percent (5 for 9) of his triple attempts, in the last two contests. After notching a season-high 15 points in a victory over Tennessee Tech on November 28, the 6-foot-6 guard/forward went for 12 versus Furman last Saturday. Hicks, who has knocked down five three-pointers in his last two outings, had buried just five in the previous four games combined. Teams from the state of Michigan have brought out the best in the Rochester, Minn., native, who is producing 13.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1.6 apg, and is shooting 59 percent (26 for 44) from the field and 53 percent (10 for 19) from long distance in his last five games versus opponents from Michigan. Hicks, an only child, has battled numerous injuries throughout his career, twice seeing his season end prematurely, but has dealt with a far more serious condition as his mother, Carla, has been battling cancer.
Solid efforts in the second half have been a staple in Loyola's six wins this season. After putting up an average of only 26.7 points and connecting on 37 percent (57 for 156) of their field goal attempts in the first half, the Ramblers have rebounded to tally 39.8 points and shoot a sizzling 55 percent (83 for 151) from the field in the second period in their six victories. In last Saturday's win over Furman, Loyola notched 48 second-half points and converted 65 percent (20 for 31) of its field goal tries.
PUTTING THE "O" IN LOYOLA
A year ago, Loyola was one of the lowest-scoring teams in the nation, coming in at 57.2 ppg and through the first six games of the 2012-13 season, it showed a slight improvement, bumping that figure to 60.3 ppg, on 43 percent (131 for 302) shooting from the field, including 34 percent (36 for 107) from downtown. However, the offense has showed signs of coming to life in the last pair of outings as the Ramblers are lighting up the scoreboard for 79.0 ppg on 48 percent (54 for 112) shooting, including 44 percent (19 for 43) from beyond the arc. In fact, the 158 points in the last two games in the most in consecutive games for Loyola since also tallying 158 in back-to-back games at DePaul and Texas-Pan American, December 18-22, 2010.
THE FORECAST CALLS FOR PAYNE
Junior point guard Cully Payne is starting to settle in after sitting out last season due to his transfer from the University of Iowa, where he was a Sporting News Freshman All-Big Ten Team performer in 2009-10 after averaging 8.7 ppg, 3.0 rpg, and 3.8 apg. Over the last three games, the 6-foot-1 Payne has contributed 11.7 ppg, 1.3 rpg, 5.3 apg, and 1.7 spg, while knocking down 39 percent (10 for 26) of his tries from the field and 40 percent (6 for 15) from long distance, numbers that are vast improvements over his 4.4 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 4.2 apg, 0.6 spg, and 20 percent (5 for 25) and eight percent (1 for 12) in the first five contests. Obviously no stranger to Big Ten basketball and Michigan State, Payne is averaging 10.5 ppg, 2.5 rpg, and 2.0 apg in two career meetings with the Spartans, and in five games versus either Michigan or Michigan State is tallying 13.4 ppg, 3.0 rpg, and 2.6 apg. His 18 points versus Tennessee Tech on November 28 were his most since tossing in a career-best 25 versus Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament in 2010.
BEN AT WORK
Last season, Ben Averkamp blossomed into one of the top players in the Horizon League and this season has a chance to vie 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 last month after tallying 20.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.0 apg, and 2.0 bpg in three games. The Germantown, Wis., native, who is one of only two players to rank among the top seven in the Horizon League in both scoring (16.5 ppg) and rebounding (6.6 rpg) this season, is going for 16.9 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 3.0 apg, 1.9 bpg, and 1.0 spg, while shooting 45 percent (44 for 97) from the field in his last seven outings against teams from the state of Michigan. An inside-outside threat, Averkamp has buried 5 of his last 11 shots (.455) from beyond the arc, and in his last 13 games versus non-Horizon League opponents, is notching 19.1 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 1.6 apg, and 1.4 bpg. He recorded his first double-double (15 points, 10 rebounds) of the year, and seventh of his career, at Northern Illinois on November 24. A November 28 win versus Tennessee Tech marked the first time since February 5 (13 games) that Averkamp didn't lead or share the team lead in scoring. Having just concluded the most productive November of his collegiate career, during which he averaged 17.4 ppg and 6.6 rpg, Averkamp looks to carry over his recent success in December. In his last two road outings in December, he has put up 26.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg, and 2.0 apg. Averkamp has scored in double digits in 16 of his last 17 appearances dating back to last season and in six career meetings with BCS conference foes, is contributing 12.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.5 apg, and 1.2 bpg.
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." Last month, 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 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 Michigan State game, he has recorded 1,121 points, 526 rebounds, 149 assists, and 133 blocks.
THE SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS
Arguably the most improved player on the roster, sophomore Christian Thomas has been a key contributor this season, but especially so during the Ramblers' current four-game winning streak. Over that stretch, the 6-foot-5 St. Louis, Mo., native is gathering 7.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 1.5 spg, and is hitting 64 percent (7 for 11) of his field goal attempts after putting up just 2.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, and 0.5 spg, while sinking 44 percent (4 for 9) of his shots in the season's opening four outings. Despite being undersized, Thomas has been a monster on the glass, with over 50 percent (19 of 34) of his rebounds coming on the offensive end. Thomas has converted 23 of his last 24 (.958) attempts from the charity stripe and each of his last 19 away from home. In the last two contests not played at Gentile Arena, he is pitching in 8.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.5 apg, and 1.0 spg, and shooting 57 percent (4 for 7) from the field.
RAMBLERS AND SPARTANS CONNECTIONS
Loyola sophomore Joe Crisman played on the prestigious Indiana High School All-Star team along with current Michigan State sophomore guard Branden Dawson in 2011. In addition to Dawson, Crisman's other teammates on that squad included Cody Zeller (Indiana) and Marquis Teague (Kentucky), among others. Loyola assistant coach Jason Gardner, who was a four-time All-American as a player at the University of Arizona from 1999-2003, provided heartache to Michigan State fans in the 2001 Final Four when he torched the Spartans for a team-high 21 points in an 80-61 victory in the NCAA National Semifinal in Minneapolis, Minn.
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.
WHY SO DEFENSIVE?
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. This year's team got off to one of the best defensive starts in recent Loyola history and its 332 points allowed through six games was the fewest since 1949-50 (309 points). In its six victories this season, Loyola has permitted 51.8 ppg and held opponents to 37 percent (118 for 323) from the field and 31 percent (29 for 95) from three-point range. However, in their two setbacks, the Ramblers have allowed 74.5 ppg as opponents have connected on 51 percent (49 for 96) from both the field and three-point territory (18 for 35). Under Moser, Loyola has surrendered a measly 51.5 ppg in its 13 wins and has held opponents under 50 points on eight occasions.
SUB SIXTY SPELLS SUCCESS
Since the start of the 2004-05 campaign, Loyola has posted a 53-13 (.803) record when it holds its opponent to fewer than 60 points.
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 as a team 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 1,025 consecutive Loyola men's basketball games heading into Saturday's contest at Michigan State. Hired prior to the 1977-78 season, Hitch has not missed a Rambler game in 36 years, witnessing 474 victories.
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.