Christian Thomas hit a layup with less than a second remaining to lift Loyola to a 71-70 victory over the University of Evansville basketball team on Wednesday evening at the Ford Center in Missouri Valley Conference Action.
The Aces (11-4, 1-2 MVC) led by as many as six points with just over two minutes remaining before the Ramblers (12-3, 2-1 MVC) finished the game on a 9-2 run to take the victory.
“When you shoot 57% you should win a lot of games. Defense wins championships and we need that effort and intensity on that side,” UE head coach Marty Simmons said. “If our defense does not get better, it will be tough for us.”
Leading the UE attack was D.J. Balentine, who notched 18 points and finished with a season-high of eight assists. Duane Gibson had his top game of the season, posting 16 points to go along with 3 assists and no turnovers.
Egidijus Mockevicius chipped in his 11th double-double of the season with 12 points and 10 boards while Mislav Brzoja followed up his 17-point effort at Indiana State with 12 against the Ramblers.
A 4-4 start saw the Purple Aces take off to an 8-2 start. Egidijus Mockevicius had a pair of buckets in the early run as UE shut out Loyola in the opening minutes by a 6-0 score. Loyola began the game 0-2 from the field, but quickly found its rhythm.
The Ramblers made six of their next nine attempts as a Donte Ingram layup gave them their first lead at 15-13 just over seven minutes into the game. Mislav Brzoja gave the lead back to UE with an old-fashioned 3-point play at 16-15. Thirteen lead changes ensued in the opening stanza with neither team leading by more than a possession of the final 14 minutes of the half.
With the score tied at 36-36 inside the final two minutes, Loyola reeled off the final three tallies of the half to head to the break, up 39-36.
Christian Thomas, who led Loyola with 16 points on a 7-of-9 effort from the field, gave his squad its largest lead of the night in the opening minutes of the second frame. His jumper gave LUC a 43-38 edge.
Evansville fought back to tie the game four minutes later as a Gibson jumper knotted the score at 47-47. Midway through the half, a Milton Doyle triple saw the Ramblers reestablish its 5-point edge at 58-53. The Aces were able to punch back with a rally of their own, scoring the next eight points to go up 61-58 with just over five minutes remaining.
Less than two minutes later, Mockevicius hit a layup to give the Aces their largest lead of the night at 66-60. UE found itself up 68-62 with 2:34 left, but Loyola never gave up. Following a Doyle free throw, the Ramblers got the ball back to Thomas, who nailed a triple to make it a 68-66 game.
Balentine responded with a jumper to put UE up 70-66, but Doyle found his stroke at the other end, hitting the 8th triple of the night to get Loyola within one with 42 ticks left. After a UE miss, Loyola got the ball back with 12 seconds left and Thomas struck again, hitting a layup with just 0.1 remaining. That proved to be the game winner.
For the night, the Aces shot 57.4%, hitting 27 out of 47 attempts. Loyola was solid on the offensive end, shooting 50.9% while hitting eight triples.
Next up for the Aces is a trip to Peoria, Ill. to face Bradley. Game time is set for 1 p.m. on Saturday at Carver Arena.