Loyola impresses with near-comeback vs. Indiana State, but rough first half looms large

Patrick Engel
Medill Reports

Gentile Arena has potent loudspeakers for the Missouri Valley Conference’s smallest gym. They aren’t, however, enough to drown out an exasperated coach.

As Loyola’s cheer squad did its best to distract the paid attendance of 307 fans, Ramblers coach Kate Achter’s voice permeated their chants and the speakers’ music. Surrounded by her team in a huddle, she had just called timeout after Indiana State rattled off an 8-2 run to start the third quarter of Friday night’s game. A 12-point Loyola halftime deficit had ballooned to 18, and Achter saw no signs of it stopping.

“I feel like everybody in the gym could hear my timeout, because I was so frustrated with them,” said Achter, Loyola’s head coach. “But mostly frustrated for them. They were capable of more. And that’s what I told them.

It turns out Achter was right. Loyola tied ISU at 17 for the rest of the quarter, then ran out to seven straight points to start the fourth quarter, cutting ISU’s lead to 56-47 with 7:44 left.

ISU, though, responded with a 7-0 run of its own. The Sycamores went on to win the game, 73-65, dropping Loyola to 3-16 and 1-7 in the MVC.

The Ramblers did plenty of things well. They reached 60 points for the third time in four games and produced their highest-scoring game since Dec. 6. Their longest scoring drought spanned a survivable three minutes. They out-rebounded ISU 36-33 and made as many free throws than ISU attempted. They outscored ISU by 10 in the fourth quarter, making 11 of 18 field goals and going 4-for-6 from the 3-point line. A 20-point deficit narrowed to seven with 51 seconds left.

“When we defend well, which we’re capable of doing, we find scores,” Achter said. “That’s what you saw in the fourth quarter.”

Loyola has taken worse losses this season. Thing is, though, there’s more context needed with those positive stats. In the first half, Loyola shot 25 percent, scored 21 points and had nine turnovers. It’s hard to have one good quarter-and-a-half bail out a rough opening 20 minutes. And stopping an impending explosion, while a positive, isn’t exactly a sound strategy for wins.

“As disappointed as I was in our effort in the first half, there was a bit of resiliency and fight late,” Achter said. “It just can’t take us 30 minutes to decided we’re going to have it.”

Achter made that feeling clear, and not just in the timeout. Loyola used six players in its rotation, with five minutes from freshman forward Alexis Meyer and one from sophomore guard Lauren Segars sprinkled in as the seventh and eighth players. Neither attempted a shot.

Freshman guard Ellie Rice, freshman forward Abby O’Connor and senior forward Katie Salmon supplied most of the offense that helped Loyola’s rally. Each reached double figures in scoring, with O’Connor suppling a team-high 17 points.

“Ideally, I’d like to play more than six kids,” Achter said. “But I also need people to step up in practice and prove to me they can be in those situations and I can rely on them to play hard.”

The point, evidently, was to send a message. Segars, who had started the last 13 games, entered for the first time Friday with 2:35 remaining in the third quarter and Loyola down 52-34. One minute and 11 seconds later, after two ISU baskets with a Loyola score in between, Achter took her out.

“She knows this. I want her to play harder consistently,” Achter said.

“And I just didn’t see that, not to what she’s capable of. So I wasn’t going to mess with it, because we were already down and didn’t need it to explode to 50. I don’t think she was going to let it get to that point, but everybody sees that’s not an acceptable effort either.”

Without making a sound, that quick hook of a veteran player sent just as loud a message as the one in the timeout.