When Loyola Chicago coach Drew Valentine was asked last week about possibly cracking the Associated Press Top 25 poll, he didn't sound too worried about it.
"The year we made the Final Four, we weren't ranked once all year," he said. "I think our fans would take a Final Four trip over a Top 25 ranking."
The Ramblers did join the Top 25 on Monday, debuting at No. 22. They'll take that ranking to Indiana on Tuesday night for a Missouri Valley Conference clash at Evansville.
Loyola (13-2, 4-0 MVC) carries a nine-game winning streak into the road contest after rallying in the second half Saturday night for a 64-56 win at Indiana State. It's off to its best conference start in 20 seasons.
Lucas Williamson, the last remaining player from the Ramblers' 2018 Final Four roster, scored a game-high 17 points and sank 4 of 5 3-point attempts. He scored six straight points midway through the second half to wipe out a 45-44 deficit.
Marquise Kennedy contributed 15 points and Braden Norris chipped in 12 as Loyola shot 45.1 percent from the field and made 8 of 24 shots from the 3-point line. The Ramblers also played their usual tough brand of defense, holding the Sycamores to 8 of 30 shooting in the second half and granting them just seven free throws on the night.
Loyola features a balanced attack, with Williamson (12.3 points per-game) and MVC Newcomer of the Week Ryan Schwieger (11.4 points per-game) leading the way.
Five other players chip in between 7.7 and 9.9 points per-game and the defense limits opponents to 63.1 points and 42 percent shooting from the field, on average. In short, there has been no drop-off after the departure of coach Porter Moser to Oklahoma.
Meanwhile, Evansville (4-11, 0-4) has lost four straight games, including a demoralizing 79-47 setback Wednesday night at Bradley. The Purple Aces shot just 29.1 percent from the field, including 6 of 26 on 3-pointers, and were dominated 47-26 on the boards.
"We defended pretty well initially and kept it manageable at halftime," Evansville coach Todd Lickliter said. "In the second half, we had some good possessions to cut into the lead, but Bradley got on a roll and we were not able to keep up."
The Aces got 16 points each from Jawaun Newton and Shamar Givance, but the duo missed 21 of their 31 shots from the field. Their teammates weren't much help, combining for only 15 points on 24 shots.
Givance (14.7 points per-game) and Newton (14.4) have accounted for nearly half of Evansville's 60.5-point scoring average, one of the worst outputs in Division I. The Aces have taken an average of 26.5 3-pointers per-game this season, but are shooting only 31.7 percent from deep.
Evansville leads the all-time series with Loyola 28-25, but the Ramblers have won the last five matchups, and seven of the last eight.
--Field Level Media