Loyola will limp into its first Missouri Valley Conference tournament Thursday carrying the stigma of a six-game losing streak.
“Literally, it’s going to be forget the [regular] season,’’ junior guard Joe Crisman said after his team fell 75-72 to Evansville on Saturday despite a furious closing surge that fell short. “Those lost seven, eight minutes — if we could bottle that …
“To play that hard, we need to go in with that mind-set.’’
The Ramblers (9-21, 4-14), who have lost nine of their last 10, will be the No. 10 seed in the MVC tourney in St. Louis. They’ll face No. 7 seed Bradley (12-19, 7-11), which won both regular-season meetings.
“Turnovers were a big problem for us against Bradley,’’ said Crisman, who led the Ramblers with 20 points. “Hopefully, the momentum [from Saturday] will help.’’
The Ramblers had eight turnovers at the half but only three in the closing 20 minutes against the Purple Aces (13-18, 6-12).
But a lackluster start to the second half hurt the Ramblers more. They opened 0-for-8 from the field as Evansville built an 18-point lead.
“We let our offense dictate our defense,’’ Loyola coach Porter Moser said. “This group has to learn when to run uphill when you’re facing adversity. This group has to find a way to bottle up the energy they played with [in] the last six minutes.’’
The Ramblers trailed 60-47 when Crisman hit one of two free throws, then scored on a layup after rebounding his missed second attempt.
Evansville’s lead shrank to 71-70 with 48 seconds left after Crisman’s three-point play.
Conference scoring leader DJ Balentine (24 points) hit a reverse layup with 15 seconds left. Then Loyola freshman Milton Doyle sank two free throws with eight seconds left for a 73-72 score.
But Evansville freshman Duane Gibson (22 points) made two free throws with six seconds left to secure the victory.
“We got sloppy,’’ Evansville coach Marty Simmons said. “What got us the lead was how aggressive we were, and we didn’t play the clock and the score as we should have.
“But give Loyola credit. They game-plan as well as anyone in the league. Gibson stepped up for us and played his best game, and his two free throws at the end were huge.’’
The top seed is regular-season champion Wichita State, which completed a 31-0 regular season Saturday, defeating Missouri State 68-45. The No. 2-ranked Shockers will be playing to hold on to a likely No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.