Wednesday’s 75-69 victory at Loyola Chicago may not have come against a top-10 team, but it did come against one that, despite losing some key players from a year ago, was coming off a run to the Final Four. It wasn’t as dramatic a finish, but it was just as satisfying.
The Cardinals (6-3) are showing they are comfortable in big environments and clutch situations. BSU saw Loyola rally from 13 points down to grab a lead late in the game but then responded with big plays down the stretch to run its winning streak to five games.
K.J. Walton continued his incredibly efficient offensive production, scoring a game-high 22 points on 11-for-14 shooting. Zach Gunn knocked down four more 3-pointers on his way to 12 points. Those two have been among the Cardinals’ hottest players of late, and they certainly didn’t show any drop off against the Ramblers (5-4).
Tayler Persons scored 12 points, all in the second half, and handed out five assists against the Missouri Valley Conference favorite. Ball State is now 3-0 against the MVC this season.
“I thought our players showed a lot of poise,” Ball State head coach James Whitford said. “I thought Tayler made big plays for us, as he often does. He really did a good job of getting the other guys involved and trying to stick with it because they’re good on defense. He didn’t lose his mind, and he kept staying with it. I thought his leadership on the court was a big difference.”
But after leading the majority of the game, Ball State found itself trailing 68-67 as the clock ticked under two minutes to play. That’s when Trey Moses and Tahjai Teague combined on the key play of the game.
Loyola leading scorer Marques Townes was attacking the basket on a fastbreak, looking to push the lead to three. But Moses was in position, stood his ground, and blocked the shot. Teague picked up the ball, raced down the floor, hit a shot in the lane and was fouled. When he converted the 3-point play, Ball State had a lead it never lost again.
Teague scored 14 points, pulled down nine rebounds and also provided a strong defensive effort. Moses scored nine points and dished out five assists, passing out of double teams in the post to find open shooters and drivers.
“I thought Tahjai’s help (on defense) was great,” Whitford said., “He’s such a smart player, and I thought he was in the right spot to help a lot. We needed him, and he really helped us win the game on both ends.”
Ball State took control of the game in the first half with a 15-2 run, keyed by three of Gunn’s 3-pointers, turning a tie score into a 31-18 lead. The Cardinals led 37-30 at the break, but Loyola chipped away and finally stormed ahead by one with an 8-0 spurt before the Cardinals regrouped for the stretch run.
Loyola big man Cameron Krutwig scored 19 points, while Townes had 14 points and 10 rebounds. Ball State held the Ramblers’ top two scorers – Townes and MVC Preseason Player of the Year Clayton Custer – to a combined 8-for-22 shooting.
Ball State is off to a 2-0 start on its four-game road stretch. The Cardinals will travel to play Sunday at Evansville with a 2 p.m. CT (3 ET) tipoff on ESPN+. The teams met just two weeks ago at Worthen Arena, with the Cardinals winning 82-72.