Key statistics: The Shockers outscored the Ramblers 44-25 in the second half, making 15 of 21 shots and 6 of 10 three-pointers. WSU committed one second-half turnover, on its way to six for the game.
Records: WSU 14-2, 4-0 MVC; LU 12-4, 2-2
How the game turned: WSU held the Ramblers scoreless for the first 4:23 of the second half, allowing it to grab a 33-28 lead with a 10-0 run. The Shockers blocked three shots and forced a turnover and Loyola missed its first seven shots of the half.
Stat that shouldn’t surprise you: WSU recorded 17 assists on 25 baskets.
Stat that might surprise you: Loyola’s bench outscored WSU’s 31-5. Outside of 15 solid minutes for Shaq Morris, WSU’s reserves contributed little. Morris is the only sub who played more than eight minutes.
Next up: vs. Southern Illinois (7-10 0-4), 7 p.m. Wednesday (Cox 22)
▪ Loyola gave WSU guard Tekele Cotton room to shoot on Sunday. The under-sized Ramblers needed to help defend WSU’s Darius Carter and sagging off Cotton, who is shooting 28.6 percent from three-point range this season, made sense.
It worked for a half. He missed both his three-point attempts and scored two first-half points.
“It’s just a little weird, because you’re used to somebody defending you,” Cotton said. “You’ve just got to adjust to it.”
Cotton made all four of his threes in the second half and finished with 16 points.
“Same looks he had in the first half, he burned them in the second half,” WSU guard Fred VanVleet said.
WSU is an excellent outside shooting team, but a lot of that has come from reserves who aren’t as accomplished defensively. Cotton is 7 of 16 from three his past four games, a product of more work in the gym and the jammed middle finger on his shooting hand feeling better. The swelling is down and he switched to a black padding, instead of white.
“It’s better,” he said. “I can tolerate it a lot more.”
▪ MVC commissioner Doug Elgin watched the game at Gentile Arena and he had to feel heartened by the play of the Ramblers. The Ramblers, the MVC’s newest member, competed and look improved over last season, when they went 10-22, 4-14. Coach Porter Moser is recruiting the kind of players it takes to win in the MVC.
Now he needs a few more of them. The Ramblers have two scholarship seniors and will return most of their scoring and rebounding next season. With freshman Donte Ingram and junior transfers Earl Peterson and Montel James, Moser added depth to this team and reduced the burden on star sophomore Milton Doyle. James, who started the first 14 games, missed Wednesday’s win at Evansville with a sprained ankle and played five minutes Sunday.
“I’m impressed with what Porter has done,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “They did a wonderful job recruiting. This is not going to be an easy place to win, at all.”
Loyola shouldn’t be compared to Creighton. It’s not Creighton. It might not ever reach that level. But the Ramblers are a top-50 RPI team and that is a big boost to the MVC that nobody saw coming in October. Loyola is making progress quickly and that is good news for the MVC.
▪ Doyle aggravated his sprained left ankle midway through the second half. He returned quickly, but made little impact.
“He wasn’t the same after that,” Moser said. “But that’s part of it.”
▪ WSU committed six or fewer turnovers for the fourth time this season and single-digits for the seventh. The Shockers average 9.8 turnovers a game and lead the MVC with a plus-4.12 turnover margin. Illinois State is second at plus-1.31.
The Ramblers led 28-23 at halftime after a 10-0 run. WSU quickly regained the lead in the second half and fought off every Ramblers rally. Moser marveled at WSU’s poise, even when the crowd woke up after Peterson’s bank shot from halfcourt cut the lead to eight. The Shockers respond so well because they don’t turn the ball over. They play at their pace and execute their offense, no matter the atmosphere.
“There’s never been a team that understands 40 minutes more than them,” Moser said. “They just keep grinding, keep raising their level. They had no panic in them at all.”