By Greg Melo
In a battle between two women’s basketball teams vying for better seeding in the middle of the pack for the Missouri Valley Conference, the Loyola Ramblers fell to the Southern Illinois Salukis 41-64 on Friday night at Gentile Arena.
Loyola started out strong in the contest as forward Abby O’Connor came to play right out of the gate, igniting the Ramblers efficient start with a quick 9 points and leading them to a 9-5 lead into the first timeout. On the other end, Ramblers guard Tiara Wallace, along with O’Connor, anchored a defensive unit that forced an early 3 turnovers 6 minutes into the quarter.
The Salukis did not bow out to the Ramblers early push. After the timeout, Salukis forward Abby Brockmeyer converted a 3-point play to trim the deficit to 1. But the Ramblers were able to maintain a steady lead, closing the quarter on a 7-3 run and leading SIU by 5 at the end of the first.
The game slowed down in the second quarter as both teams settled in defensively. The Salukis were able to cut the lead to 1 after a Caitlin Link trey with 5:07 remaining in the half. After a timeout, Link gave the Salukis their first lead, 19-18, converting a layup with 4 minutes remaining in the quarter. The Salukis continued to grind it out, and took a 23-21 lead into halftime.
The Ramblers struggled from the field during the entire second quarter, shooting only 13.3 percent from the field on 2-15 shooting. O’Connor, who was hot early on, went ice cold and shot 0-8 from the field to close out the half.
SIU drew first blood out of the intermission, as forward Nicole Martin (17 points, 16 rebounds) paced the Salukis with 5 points during a 7-0 run to open up the third. The lid stayed on the basket for the Ramblers, as they did not score their first points of the half until the 5:15 mark of the quarter. Lacking the firepower of guard Janae Gonzales from distance, the Ramblers needed to rely on more drives to the rim and post play.
“Not the result that we wanted,” Loyola Coach Kate Achter said. “I just don’t think we played well. We went 5 of 13 from the free throw line and only had 6 assists. Maybe it was an adjustment period. But, at the end of the day, we’ve played 14 conference games. We should be comfortable. Today I think we under-performed.”
After a timeout with 4:55 left in the quarter, the Salukis fired another blow at the Ramblers. SIU guard Makenzie Silvey scored a pair of 3s and a tough lay-up as she conducted a Salukis 8-0 run to extend the lead to 13 with 2:41 remaining, 38-25. SIU would ultimately close the quarter on a 13-1 run, leading Loyola 42-26 heading into the final period.
The teams traded blows to start the 4th, as the Salukis maintained a steady lead after the first 4 minutes of play. However, the Ramblers ultimately could not get stops when it counted. Second chance points and offensive rebounding were a problem for Loyola, as the Ramblers finished the contest giving up 9 second chance points on 13 Salukis offensive rebounds. On the flip side, Loyola was limited on the offensive glass, and finished with 0 second chance points.
Martin was a major contributor to the disparity in second chance points, as she played Loyola forward Allison Day off the court, forcing Achter to try out some smaller lineups. SIU could not miss in the second half, shooting 53 percent from the field and over 60 percent from distance to close out the game.
“I thought the last bucket of the first half was a real momentum builder for them,” Achter said. “And it was on our mistake. We should have stopped the gap and made [Brittney] Patrick pass it out, and we didn’t.”
After the tough loss, the Ramblers fell to 6-8 in conference play and now find themselves in the 6th spot with four games remaining. Sunday they will face a tough test when second place Missouri State comes to town for a matinee bout.
“One day prep,” Achter said. “We gotta figure it out. We got to find a way to get some confidence and stay together because that’s what wins games late here in February.”