TAYLORSVILLE, Utah (AP)Ryan Schwieger scored 24 points on 9-of-10 shooting to lead Loyola Chicago past San Francisco 79-74 in an impromptu neutral-site matchup at Salt Lake Community College on Thursday.
Jacob Hutson added 13 points and Aher Uguak scored 10 for the Ramblers (10-2), who played for the first time since Dec. 10 after having six straight games canceled or postponed due to COVID-19 issues.
Yauhen Massalski scored 20 points and blocked four shots to lead the Dons (13-2). Khalil Shabazz added 15 points and Jamaree Bouyea had 13.
Loyola and San Francisco agreed to play a neutral-site contest earlier in the week when both teams had conference games scheduled for Thursday postponed because of COVID-19 issues with their opponents.
The impromptu game offered a resume-building opportunity for both teams as they pursue NCAA Tournament bids. The Ramblers entered Thursday at No. 19 in the NCAA NET rankings. The Dons were ranked 32nd – one of four West Coast Conference teams in the top 40.
”It’s cool. Flying to Utah on one day of prep and playing at a community college,” Schwieger said. ”That’s the kind of stuff that college basketball is about.”
Both teams played at a high level for the bulk of 40 minutes. Loyola and San Francisco each shot over 50% from the floor.
The Ramblers never trailed in the second half after Tom Welch scored a go-ahead layup and then dished to Schwieger for a 3-pointer to put Loyola up 54-49. Loyola eventually increased its lead to 75-66 after Welch and Marquise Kennedy punctuated a 10-2 run with back-to-back layups.
”Just an absolute great job by our team stepping up down the stretch in so many different ways,” Ramblers coach Drew Valentine said.
San Francisco cut the deficit to three, pulling within 77-74 on a 3-pointer by Zane Meeks with 1:23 remaining. Bouyea and Gabe Stefanini each had a crack at tying 3-pointer in the final seconds but both players missed.
”This was the type of game I was hoping for when we committed to playing them,” Dons coach Todd Golden said. ”I think both teams acquitted themselves really well. Obviously, I’m disappointed we lost. We let it get away from us a little bit and then we fought back to the point where we had two chances to tie it with under a minute to go.”
Loyola led by as many as seven points during the first half. Lucas Williamson and Kennedy combined to make six free throws and Kennedy made a layup to fuel a 14-7 spurt that gave the Ramblers a 28-21 lead.
San Francisco answered with a 12-2 run to take a 33-30 lead late in the first half. Shabazz drove for a layup and Meeks buried a 3-pointer on back-to-back possessions to cap off the run and put the Dons in front before halftime.
A lost lead did not equal lost confidence for Loyola.
”We stayed aggressive,” Schwieger said. ”Our coaches obviously made great adjustments at halftime and put us in really good positions. … We knew that it was going to work out for us.”
Loyola Chicago: The Ramblers showed some early rust after going 26 days between games. They struggled to find their shot in the first half but settled into a groove after halftime. Loyola made 16 baskets and shot 64% from the field in the second half.
San Francisco: Efficient shooting helped the Dons hang around until late. San Francisco made its first six field-goal attempts and shot 53% from the field in the first half. The Dons could not get enough stops to make it count.
Both teams have shown up in recent bracket projections as contenders for NCAA Tournament bids. When their respective schedules created an opening, Golden and Valentine had a 45-minute conversation and jumped at the opportunity to pit their teams against one another on a neutral court.
They discussed potential sites in Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Denver before reaching an agreement to play at Bruin Arena. The 5,000-seat venue is the home of the Salt Lake Community College Bruins, the No. 1 ranked men’s basketball team in the NJCAA, and the Salt Lake City Stars – the G League affiliate of the Utah Jazz.
”We’re trying to prepare our teams for the long run,” Valentine said. ”We’ve played at Battle 4 Atlantis and we’ve already seen how much that’s helped our team grow. We’ve played at DePaul. We’ve played at Vanderbilt. And those games have really helped our team grow and get better. And so we wanted that opportunity.”
SCOUTING THE ACTION
Among the few dozen people who turned out to watch the noon MST tipoff were several scouts from the Utah Jazz – including former Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey.
Loyola Chicago hosts Bradley on Saturday.
San Francisco hosts San Diego on Saturday.
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