Illinois State (13-10) at Loyola-Chicago (8-15)

GAME NOTES: The Loyola-Chicago Ramblers will close out a two-game homestand on Sunday afternoon when they do battle with the Illinois State Redbirds in a Missouri Valley Conference clash at Gentile Arena.

Illinois State has won back-to-back games to surge above .500 in the MVC (6-5), most recently downing Northern Iowa at home on Wednesday, 76-65. The Redbirds are a solid 13-10 overall this season, but that includes just a 3-6 mark on the road.

Loyola has floundered in recent weeks with losses in three straight and five of six to dip to just 8-15 overall and 3-8 in league action. The Ramblers most recently lost to Bradley on Thursday, 63-54, to regress to 7-4 on their home floor.

In the first meeting between the programs this season, Illinois State won at home on Jan. 11, 59-50. The Redbirds have beaten the Ramblers on four straight occasions to improve to 8-3 in the all-time series.

Despite falling behind by three at halftime of their most recent contest, the Redbirds took control after intermission, improving their field goal shooting from 35.7 percent in the first half to 51.9 percent in the second to pull away for the 11-point victory. They also won both the rebounding (33-28) and turnover (16-11) battles and shot a stellar 21-of-24 from the free-throw line. Bobby Hunter led the way with 17 points, while Daishon Knight (15 points), Zach Lofton (14) and Jamaal Samuel (10) were all integral parts of the victory.

Illinois State is typically a lackluster shooting squad, as it makes good on just 40.4 percent of its field goal tries for 68.8 ppg, with both numbers falling short of what its opponents produce (.423, 69.4 ppg). It makes 7.4 3- pointers per game, but it needs a lot of volume as its 3-point percentage is only .318. Knight is the top scorer with 12.6 ppg, albeit on just 36 percent shooting from the floor. Hunter (10.7 ppg) and Lofton (10.6 ppg) are also regular contributors to a modest attack.

The Ramblers appeared in control of their latest tilt leading by three with under six minutes to play, but they unraveled down the stretch as Bradley finished the game on an 18-6 run. Their defense held up to their end of the bargain by allowing the Braves to shoot just 35.8 percent from the field, but unfortunately they could not capitalize on their end, making good on less than 34 percent of their tries from the floor. Milton Doyle finished with 16 points and eight rebounds but was just 5-of-18 from the field and had six turnovers. Devon Turk came off the bench to net 13 points.

Loyola has established a similar theme all season long, as it plays impressive defense, allowing just 67.1 ppg, but fails to take advantage offensively with just 66.5 ppg itself, despite shooting an impressive 47.5 percent from the field. Negative margins in the rebounding (-1.1) and turnover (-2.0) battles contribute to its struggles, as does its inactively from the free-throw line, making less than 13 foul shots per game. Doyle is the catalyst with 16.5 ppg on 45.1 percent field goal shooting while also swiping more than a steal per game. Christian Thomas (13.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg), Jeff White (10.7 ppg) and Turk (9.7 ppg) have also been solid.

Loyola's homecourt advantage in this one could make the difference, especially considering its sound play on the defensive end of the court. However, Illinois State has the hot hand and will likely be able to overcome its road surroundings to pick up its third straight win.

GAME NOTES: The Loyola-Chicago Ramblers will close out a two-game homestand on Sunday afternoon when they do battle with the Illinois State Redbirds in a Missouri Valley Conference clash at Gentile Arena.

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