The Loyola Ramblers were one of the hottest teams in the area.
Winners of nine straight games, including an impressive victory over Marian Catholic, Loyola had not lost since before Christmas, but none of that success fazed Notre Dame on Tuesday night as the Dons took control in the second half to defeat Loyola 43-36.
In a day and age of up and down basketball and a myriad of three point shots both teams showed tremendous composure in the first half running their offenses and working for great shots.
Both defenses limited lane penetration with neither team being able to pull away in a lightning quick first half that ended at 17 all.
As the second half opened, Notre Dame stifled the Loyola offense as the Ramblers were was unable to score for the first three minutes.
Despite standing tall defensively, Notre Dame could only manage a single three point basket by Troy D’Amico as it remained a one possession game at the end of three quarters.
Long possessions culminating in turnovers was the theme for the opening portion of the fourth quarter until Dons’ sophomore Anthony Sayles hit a off balanced challenged jumper to open the lead to 29-26.
Notre Dame continued their mini-run, extending their lead to 34-27 with just over a minute to go, with the seven point lead seemingly insurmountable given the pace of the first 21 minutes of the contest.
With Loyola forced to foul, Notre Dame held their nerve at the free throw line going 9 of 10 down the stretch to secure the upset victory.
Notre Dame coach Kevin Clancy noted the improvement from the charity stripe: “Huge. It’s been a struggle for us of late, so we locked in on it the last two days, we got quite a few free throws up but the credit goes to the kids for hitting those down the stretch.”
Although the Dons were lead in scoring by the usual suspect in D’Amico with 17 and Sayles with 14, the unsung hero of the night was 5’7” junior guard Jimmy Murphy who maintained control and led the Notre Dame offense throughout the night.
“I think they (Loyola) are one of the best defenses in the area, I thought Jimmy was a difference maker,” said Clancy. “He didn’t score like he did the other night but his composure and his ability to run our show was impressive.”
After struggling early in the season partially due to missing two key players who were involved in a deep football playoff run, Notre Dame has rattled off four straight victories which included wins over St. Viator and now Loyola.
“We don’t make excuses but we were on a three week delay in terms of getting out team chemistry and principles,” said Clancy. “This has been a big month for us, gelling and getting to know each other again and obviously playing great defense as a team.”
Notre Dame improves to 12-7 and will have some time off before travelling to Waukegan to face a very much improved Bulldog team on January 21st. Loyola drops to 15-5 and will face off against Catholic League opponent St. Joseph at home this Friday.