A difficult ending to the first half did in the Mississippi State men’s basketball team Saturday night.
The Bulldogs went more than five minutes without scoring late in that half. Homestanding Loyola scored 20 straight points during that stretch. This spurt allowed the Ramblers to erase an early deficit in a 59-51 victory over the Bulldogs at Gentile Arena.
The teams were playing 50 years after a historic meeting between the two universities in the 1963 NCAA Tournament. For the Bulldogs, it was their first NCAA tournament game, as the 1963 Bulldogs defied a state injunction and snuck out of town to play in East Lansing, Mich.
Several players who played during the 1963 contest were on hand for Saturday night’s contest. Pregame and halftime ceremonies included several dignitaries, including Illinois Governor Pat Quinn.
Loyola (7-3) trailed 17-14 before scoring 20 straight points to remove all doubt from the contest. The Ramblers led 34-20 at halftime and did not lead by less than eight points in the game’s final half.
“In every game, we have a situation where we don’t score the basketball,” MSU head coach Rick Ray said. “Our guys are young and inexperienced; they don’t know how to grind through that. We are doing some things well defensively. However, we don’t know what we need to do to grind through those offensive problems.”
MSU (3-6) scored the game’s first six points. Loyola went the first five minutes of the contest without scoring. The Ramblers finally broke the ice and scored four straight points. Thanks to a couple of 3-point baskets by Fred Thomas, the Bulldogs built a 12-7 lead and later held their last lead at 17-14.
“We had two guys in foul trouble in the first half and that puts us in a bind with our depth,” Ray said. “You don’t want to risk a player getting a third foul, but we don’t have options. We are shooting the ball so poorly right now. We need our guys to have a little more confidence.”
The Bulldogs closed within 11 in the early stages of the second half but could not close within single digits until Tyson Cunningham rammed home a 3-point basket in the closing seconds.
For the contest, the Bulldogs hit 18 of 48 shots from the field (37.5 percent), 5 of 17 shots from 3-point range (29.4 percent) and 10 of 16 shots from the foul line (62.5 percent). The Ramblers hit 21 of 51 shots from the field (41.2 percent), 8 of 18 shots from 3-point range (44.4 percent) and 9 of 14 shots from the foul line (64.3 percent).
Loyola held a 40-28 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had seven assists and 15 turnovers, while the Ramblers had 13 assists and 16 turnovers.
Fred Thomas led MSU with 14 points. Roquez Johnson added 13 points, including a 7-of-8 night at the free throw line. Colin Borchet and Gavin Ware each had five rebounds. The Bulldogs had a season-high eight blocked shots, including five from Gavin Ware.
Devon Turk led Loyola with 21 points. Turk scored 18 points in the opening half, including four 3-point baskets. Christian Thomas added 16 points.
MSU returns to action at Saturday for a contest with Central Arkansas. Game time is set for 2 p.m. at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson.