MVC Saturday Recap: Ramblers Win in Overtime, Race for Third Place Heats Up

Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Loyola's overtime victory over Northern Iowa moves the Ramblers up a little bit in the Valley rankings, but today's results have bigger implications for the teams jockeying for third place.

LOYOLA RAMBLERS 93, NORTHERN IOWA PANTHERS 87

Yesterday I ranked Loyola last in the Valley, and perhaps had a little bit too much confidence in UNI because of their winning Valley record. Loyola trailed the entire game until Christian Thomas made two free throws to tie it at 76. Leading scorer Milton Doyle put up eight in overtime to lead Loyola to victory. Doyle put on a clinic with 28 points, shooting 72.7 percent and missing only one of his 11 trips to the line.

There were still eighteen seconds on the clock when the game was tied in regulation. UNI successfully got under the basket, but all four attempts to get it down the net failed to get past the rim.

Loyola's 93 points marks a season high, and while the overtime period helped them achieve the mark, it is still notable for a team that ranks dead last in the conference in scoring. The Ramblers got there by making shrewd inside passes and sticking to good shot selection. Loyola didn't attempt many contested long shots, and even when they did, they managed to get the rebound (or rock a sick putback dunk).

The loss dropped Northern Iowa to .500 in every way, 10-10 overall and 4-4 in conference play. Alongside the other games on Saturday, UNI is now tied with both Illinois State and Missouri State for third in the conference. Loyola moved up to 3-5 in MVC play, a mark better than SIU and Drake (Evansville will have a chance to tie it tomorrow).

MISSOURI STATE BEARS 69, SOUTHERN ILLINOIS SALUKIS 63

The Bears started out the game very poorly before eventually regaining their composure to make it a back and forth affair. The Salukis came out attacking the basket, scoring eight before the Bears got on the board. It was apparent that missing top scorer Marcus Marshall is still a problem that hasn't been answered yet. A lack of direction on offense characterized the first ten minutes of the game for the Bears.

On the other end, the Salukis drove with confidence and made threes that they haven't made all season. Bears' Coach Paul Lusk said that he told his team to focus on defending the interior instead of worrying about SIU's game beyond the arc considering their lack of success there so far this season, but that strategy backfired as freshman guard Tyler Smithpeters had an offensive coming out of sorts, scoring 12 points from three point land (totaling 16 points) and leading his team with five assists.

A freshman guard from Missouri State was a difference maker on the other side, as Austin Ruder's back to back threes shifted the momentum in MSU's favor. Jamar Gulley also took charge late in the game after some early foul trouble to earn his second double-double in as many games. Gulley's 17 points lead the Bears, but it was his five offensive rebounds that allowed the Bears to ultimately hang onto the lead.

The Bears-Salukis matchup featured seven ties and 15 lead changes. As mentioned, the Bears are now tied for third in the MVC after moving up to 4-4 in the conference and 14-6 overall. The Salukis are tied with Drake for bottom of the conference.

INDIANA STATE SYCAMORES 76, ILLINOIS STATE REDBIRDS 62

The battle between the ISUs never ended up being much of a contest. At the half the Sycamores were up 40-29, and then extended their lead by three in the second half. Indiana State's offense performed well as it usually does, making exactly 50 percent of their field goals. The pleasant surprise was how well ISU-blue's defense performed, holding the red team to 36.4 percent shooting and only four three pointers (notable, as Indiana State is worst in the Valley when it comes to defending the perimeter).

This game was the one on the night that I wasn't able to find some way to watch, so I'll avoid trying to provide empty analysis based on just looking at a box score. However, I would like to note this game further solidified Indiana State's position as the number two team in the Valley now that they are 7-1 in conference play. At this point I have a hard time imagining the inconsistent Panthers or crippled Bears will be able to catchup up to them, while this game's result makes it hard to imagine that Illinois State will be able to keep up.

WICHITA STATE SHOCKERS 78, DRAKE BULLDOGS 61

Wichita State outmatched Drake in a dominant fashion, improving to 21-0 with an 8-0 record in the MVC. Drake managed to stay relatively close for the beginning of the game, but the Shockers took an eight point lead by closing out with a Tekele Cotton alley-oop. It only got worse from there, as the Shockers poured on the points in the second half.

As usual, WSU was lead by Cleanthony Early with 19 points and seven rebounds. On the other side, the main reason the game really stayed close in the first half was because of Drake senior Aaron Hawley, who lead the Bulldogs with 16 points and 4 rebounds. However, Chris Card scored 15 off the bench to help his team out significantly as well (in fairness, Caird tends to play more minutes than some starters).

The Valley's best defense performed masterfully, though, holding Drake's 5 spot players to four points combined. By locking down the paint, the Shockers forced the Bulldogs to rely on longer jump shots and three point attempts. In fact, exactly half of Drake's made shots were from beyond the arc (not counting free throws).

I would like to note that two of the four teams ranked above the Shockers have lost since the last rankings came out (Villanova and Michigan State), opening up the possibility that WSU could move up in the AP Poll.

On Sunday: The Valley has only one game on Sunday as the Evansville Aces host the Bradley Braves. If Bradley wins, then they will also tie for third in the Valley at 4-4 in conference play, making it a four team tie. That situation would make Bradley the one third place team with a losing overall record. Evansville can avoid being tied for last by winning, which would make them even with Loyola.

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