Loyola’s run to the top of the Missouri Valley Conference race has been fueled by selfless play by a deep roster. Energetic head coach Porter Moser has assembled a collection of scorers who have learned to share rather than shoot.
Moser preaches the value of passing up a good shot to find a great shot. His players are passionate about winning games, not winning individual awards. To put it in a statistical narrative, the Ramblers lead the Valley in in shooting percentage, three-point percentage, assists and turnover margin.
Moser says every coach teaches his players to play team basketball, but players buying in to what the coach is selling is the key to success.
Preseason all-Valley selection Donte Ingram averaged 13.6 points-per-game last season, but on this year’s more successful team he is averaging 11.3, and Moser says the small forward couldn’t be happier.
“I love talking about Donte’s leadership and mentality,” said Moser. “You can’t tell (if he scores a lot of points or not). Donte has never been about the stats, he’s about winning. If he was upset about his numbers, it would effect the whole team, but instead, his attitude about winning has effected the whole team.”
Ingram’s other numbers are the same or better this year despite playing two fewer minutes per game. He will finish the season with more assists, blocks and steals than last season and his team has been wildly successful.
Five Ramblers are averaging double figures in scoring and five make more than 40% of their shots from long distance. Leading scorer Clayton Custer (14.3 points per game) also leads the team in assists and his shooting percentages are staggering.
Custer makes 55% of all his shots and 47% from deep, while also converting 82% from the charity stripe. The red-shirt junior started his career at Iowa State and transferred to Loyola to join his former high school teammate, senior Ben Richardson. The 6’3 senior comes off the bench, plays 30 minutes per game and is second on the team at 3.8 assists.
The common theme around the Rambler program is “different night a different man”. Moser has convinced his team that each player is valuable and they understand the cliché about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.
Fairleigh-Dickinson transfer Marques Townes, like Ingram, is playing two fewer minutes per game than he did in the Northeast Conference. However, he is still scoring at the same clip as when he played on the NCAA qualifying Knights. On top of that, he’s shooting a higher percentage, rebounding at a higher clip and blocking more shots.
Drake head coach Niko Medved says the Ramblers are the total package.
“They’ve got great chemistry,” says Medved. “They just don’t have any holes. They seem to get better as the game goes on. When it really gets to crunch time they play their best. They just wear on you.”
Loyola’s third senior, Aundre Jackson was the Valley’s Sixth Man of the Year last season and has a great chance to win that award for a second straight year. He’s playing four fewer minutes per game from last season, and his scoring is down from 14.1 to 11.3 points-per-game, but continues to be an injection of offense and a rebounding force from the Rambler bench.
The 6’5 senior was forced into the post a lot last season, but the addition of freshman Cameron Krutwig (10.4 points and 6.7 rebounds per game) at the center position has pushed Jackson to his more natural, but more crowded forward position.
Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson says he has immense respect for Moser. Those two coaches have each coached in two different Valley programs and their careers have overlapped.
“He’s done a phenomenal job,” says Hinson. “From the point when they got here to the point to what they’ve done right now has been a great testimony to him and his staff.”
Since joining the Missouri Valley Conference, the Ramblers have won 10, 24, 15 and 18 games. This season Loyola (21-5, 11-3) is outscoring their league foes by more than ten points per game by allowing the fewest points and scoring the second most of any Valley squad.
While all ten Valley teams have RPIs better than 180, no league member has a legitimate chance to receive an NCAA Tournament at-large bid. So despite the special accomplishments by Loyola, they like every other MVC team must win Arch Madness to play in March Madness.
That is an achievement they do not want to share with their Valley friends.