CEDAR FALLS — A 15-point second half from AJ Green wasn’t enough as Loyola registered its second one-point men’s basketball victory over Northern Iowa this season, 56-55 Wednesday night at McLeod Center.
Three offensive rebounds by the Ramblers in the game’s final 1:13, two after missed free throws, kept the Panthers from multiple opportunities to potentially draw even or go ahead.
“It was the three (offensive) rebounds in a row that really hurt us,” UNI coach Ben Jacobson said. “Look, it was a heck of a game, and our guys, after 25 minutes, (Loyola) had really out-played us, and our guys were terrific in the last 15 minutes.”
Despite UNI’s late rebounding woes, a coast-to-coast Green layup with 11 seconds remaining shrunk Loyola’s lead to one. On the ensuing inbounds pass, Marques Townes traveled on the catch, giving UNI (14-16, 9-8) an opportunity for a game-winning shot.
After a timeout, Green — who scored a game-high 18 points — missed a go-ahead jumper on what Jacobson said was the same action he got his layup on in the previous possession.
“If we can get that shot to win the game every night that we play, we’re taking it,” Jacobson said.
Trailing 41-33 with 11:40 remaining, UNI put together a 12-2 run that was capped by a go-ahead Spencer Haldeman 3 with 8:46 to play. UNI had struggled to score before that, putting up only 23 points in the first half and trailing the Ramblers by nine at the break.
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“I’d give them credit the first 20-25 minutes, they just did a good job of pressuring us and making it hard for us to get where we wanted on the floor,” UNI guard Wyatt Lohaus said. “Once we started getting downhill on them we kind of figured that out.”
Loyola (18-12, 11-6) got a boost from the return of sophomore guard Lucas Williamson, who had missed the previous nine games with a broken hand. Green’s second-half scoring outburst came once Williamson went to the bench with three fouls. The sophomore defensive stopper scored 12 points in his return. Townes and Cameron Krutwig joined him in double figures with 16 and 14 points, respectively.
The Panthers are joined by Illinois State, Southern Illinois and Bradley with a 9-8 conference record, setting up a seed-deciding game on the road against Indiana State (14-15, 6-11) at 1 p.m. Saturday (CBSSN) to avoid an MVC tournament play-in game.
“Always (fine-tuning),” Jacobson said. “That’s what I’ve liked about this group is even the last four games, as well as we have played, we’ve been able to do something a little bit better or add something that we feel like can help us going into a game. Tonight, we weren’t able to do that from a coaching staff standpoint.”
Loyola and Drake (22-8, 11-6) are tied atop the conference standings with one game to play. Missouri State (16-14, 10-7) is one game back and hosts the Bulldogs on Saturday. The Ramblers take on Bradley (17-13, 9-8) at home Sunday.