NORMAL, IL - A smothering defensive effort from Illinois State (9-7, 2-2 MVC) in the second half held Loyola (6-10, 1-3 MVC) to just 23 points over the final 20 minutes of action, as the Redbirds flew away with a 59-50 victory over the Ramblers on the 25th anniversary of the first game played on Doug Collins Court at Redbird Arena.
With the win, the Redbirds extended their winning streak to six games in a row at Redbird Arena, matching the longest home winning streak since the 2011-12 campaign. The win also marked the eighth win in the last 11 games overall for Illinois State.
Nick Zeisloft led a quartet of Redbirds in double figures with 12 points, all of which were scored in the first half on four made shots from behind the arc. Reggie Lynch added 11 points, to go along with five rebounds and three blocks, and Bobby Hunter and John Jones each chipped in 10 points for the Redbirds in the victory.
Loyola jumped out to a 6-0 lead over the first four minutes of play, as the Redbirds were held scoreless until the 15:31 mark. That basket by Tony Wills kick-started a 7-0 run for the Redbirds, over which the Ramblers were held scoreless for over six minutes. The run was capped off on a three-pointer by Zeisloft that gave ISU its first lead of the game at 7-6.
Loyola took the lead back at 9-7 on a three-pointer from Devon Turk from the elbow and increased the lead to 11-7 on a jump hook in the lane by Cody Johnson with just under nine minutes left in the half. ISU fought back and knotted the game at 11-11 after a pair of layups by Jones, before Loyola took the lead back again at 14-11 on a three-pointer from Milton Doyle a minute later.
The Ramblers' lead grew to five points at 16-11, before a three-point play from Lynch and a layup from Hunter tied the game at 16-16. A three-point play on a dunk and free throw by Nick Osborne put Loyola up once again at 19-16, but Zeisloft tied the game for the third time on his second three-pointer of the game to make the score 19-19 with 3:18 remaining in the half.
The two teams traded baskets to make it 21-21, but Zeisloft connected from three-point range again to give the Redbirds a 24-23 lead with 1:30 left in the half. A pair of free throws by Jeff White changed the lead for the fourth time in the game, as the Ramblers took a 25-24 lead. However, Zeisloft kept his hot shooting going and hit his fourth three-pointer of the half to give the Redbirds the lead at 27-25.
Doyle hit a jumper as the shot clock expired on Loyola's next possession to the tie the game for the sixth time in the half with three seconds left. ISU called a timeout to draw up one last play before the half, but Hunter's shot at the buzzer bounced off the backboard as both teams headed to their respective locker rooms tied at 27-27.
The two teams came out of the break slow, as neither scored for the first two and a half minutes, before back-to-back layups from Lynch and Paris Lee gave the Redbirds a 31-27 advantage. The ISU defense suffocated Loyola and held the Ramblers to just two points in the first 10 minutes of the second half, as the Redbirds' lead grew to 40-29 after Lee connected on a three-pointer from the corner with 9:39 left in the game.
ISU's lead grew to as many as 14 points at 46-32, before five straight points by Loyola cut the lead to single digits at 46-39 with just over five minutes left in the game. That would be as close as the Ramblers would get, as the Redbirds maintained a double-digit lead until the final seconds of the game to come away with the victory.
Illinois State returns to action Wednesday, Jan. 15, when the Redbirds host the Evansville Purple Aces at 7:05 p.m.