Loyola of Chicago 71, Butler 67
INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—The more Jordan Hicks plays, the better he gets.
The freshman scored a career-high 23 points and Loyola of Chicago snapped a six-game losing streak with a 71-67 victory over No. 15 Butler on Sunday.
“My jump shot was really on. I felt like anything I put up was going in, and I felt if I cut to the basket my teammates would find me, and that’s what happened,” Hicks said.
Starting only his seventh game and averaging just 2.9 points for the season, Hicks set a career high for the second time in a week, following 14 points last Tuesday against Wright State.
He had a team-high 11 points in Friday’s blowout loss at Valparaiso, a total he topped midway through the second half against the Bulldogs.
“We knew he’d been playing better the last couple games,” said Butler’s Matt Howard, who had a career-high himself with 30 points. “We knew we couldn’t let him go. Coach specifically told us `Don’t let him get going, don’t let him get going, Once he gets going, he’s a rhythm guy.’ We let him get going. That’s as simple as it was.”
The Ramblers (13-15, 5-11 Horizon League) notched their first win over a ranked opponent since a 75-71 victory at Butler two years ago. The loss prevented the Bulldogs (22-3, 13-2) from clinching at least a share of their third straight conference regular-season championship.
Loyola took advantage of Butler’s early poor shooting and repeated turnovers and built a 34-16 lead with under 2 minutes left in the first half, the Bulldogs’ biggest deficit all season.
Howard led a comeback that brought the Bulldogs within 69-67 with 31 seconds left, but Justin Cerasoli hit two free throws with 4 seconds remaining to seal the win.
Cerasoli finished with 17 points. Hicks also had a career-high eight rebounds.
“It’s never easy to play Butler, especially after a disappointing game (at Valparaiso) Friday night,” Loyola coach Jim Whitesell said. “But Butler was a little off, and we needed to have that.
“When we got to the 8-minute mark in the first half and we had the lead, that was a good sign for us.”
Loyola, which lost 78-55 to Butler in their first meeting this season, went on an 11-0 run midway through the first half. Five players scored during the streak, and a basket by Darrin Williams put Loyola up 19-7 before two straight rebound baskets by Howard.
After missing nine of its first 12 shots from the field and its first seven free throws, Butler was clearly rattled. The Bulldogs had turnovers on four straight possessions late in the first half, when another 9-0 run, capped by a 3-pointer by Marcus Thomas, pushed Loyola’s lead to 30-13.
Butler’s biggest deficit before that was 13 points several times during the season.
Two free throws by Thomas gave Loyola its biggest lead of the game at 34-16, and Loyola led 37-23 at halftime.
“Everything I love about basketball happened in this game, just not on our side,” Butler coach Brad Stevens said. “They started out a lot better than we did, and that’s the difference in the game.
“They got in a nice rhythm, and when they get a lead they force you out of your comfort zone defensively. Boy, were they patient.”
Howard, held to nine points in the first half, started the Butler comeback with three baskets early in the second.
Butler pulled within 65-60 on a basket by Howard, two free throws by Gordon Hayward and a free throw by Shelvin Mack. Two minutes later, a 3-pointer by Willie Veasley and a free throw by Howard had Butler within 69-67.
Butler had a chance to tie or take the lead after a Loyola turnover, but a bad pass by Hayward and a foul by Ronald Nored sent Cerasoli to the line for the clinching free throws.
Hayward added 14 points and Veasley had 13 for Butler.