Niagara learned Wednesday night that it was more than divine providence and prayers from Sister Jean that carried the Loyola of Chicago Ramblers to the Final Four of the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Size and talent helped.
The defending Missouri Valley Conference champions took the lead late in the first half then outmuscled the Purple Eagles with rugged inside play to start the second half and went on to a 75-62 victory at Gentile Arena in Chicago. It was a first-round game of the Fort Myers Classic.
Cameron Krutwig, a 6-foot-9 260-pound sophomore center, and 6-7 Aher Uguak, a transfer from New Mexico who became eligible this year, powered a decisive 21-5 Loyola run which began late in the first half and carried into the second. Niagara had its last lead at 27-26 before the Ramblers began to rumble.
Loyola closed the half outscoring NU, 9-2 with senior guard Maurice Townes, a transfer from Fairleigh Dickinson who was one of the Ramblers’ tournament heroes last March, scoring five of the points.
Krutwig scored eight points and Uguak had five as Loyola ran off to a 50-31 lead to start the second half.
Niagara had a 12-0 run sparked by five points from James Towns, two 3-pointers by Keleaf Tate and a three-shot trip to the line by Marvin Prochet to close to 60-50 with 5:52 left but the Ramblers didn’t buckle, Krutwig’s basket, a three-point play by Townes and another basket by Townes built the lead back to 17 and Loyola had its second victory in three starts and Niagara was left at 1-1 following Monday’s opening win over St. Bonaventure.
Towns, a 5-10 junior from Detroit, led Niagara with 19 points. Senior forward Marvin Prochet had 14, senior Chris Barton scored 13 and senior Dominic Robb 10. Prochet also had a team-high 11 rebounds for his 11th career double-double and 14th career double-digit rebound game.
Krutwig finished 18 points and 11 rebounds to lead Loyola. Townes and Uguak had 15 each and senior Clayton Custer, last season’s Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year, had 14.
Barton had nine of his points early when the Purple Eagles were building a 15-10 lead. Five points on a pair of baskets by Towns made it 22-14 before Custer started a 9-0 Loyola rally for a 23-22 lead.
Niagara shot only 29 percent (19 for 65) while Loyola made 57.7 percent (30 of 58). Niagara had only nine turnovers to 10 for the Ramblers.
Next for Niagara is a Friday night game against Wyoming in Laramie, Wyo. Then the Purple Eagles return home for a home game against Grambling State as part of the Fort Myers Tip-Off then either St. Francis of Brooklyn or IUPUI (Indiana-Purdue at Indianapolis) the next night.