Braden Norris scored 13 of his game-high 19 points in the first half to lead Loyola past Northern Iowa, 66-43, in Saturday’s first semifinal of the 2022 Missouri Valley Conference Tournament at Enterprise Center in St. Louis.
Loyola, 24-7, the No. 4 seed, moves on to meet the winner of the second semi-final match between Missouri State and Drake, which tips off at 5 p.m. Saturday. LUC is the 10th No.4 seed to advance to the Valley title game. UNI was the third No. 1 seed in the past four years to lose in the semi-finals.
With Lucas Williamson guarding MVC Player of the Year AJ Green much of the time, a swarming Loyola defense limited the Panthers to just 23.2 percent from the field, their lowest of the season. UNI’s 43 points also were a season low.
Green’s 13 points led UNI, which will receive either an NCAA or NIT bid with a 19-11 record. The LUC win came just nine days after Northern Iowa beat the Ramblers 102-96 in overtime at Cedar Falls.
During the last 15:12 of the second half, UNI missed 16 straight field goal attempts as the Ramblers ended the game on an 11-1 run to advance to the Valley title game for the third time in the past five seasons and the second straight year.
The score was 2-2 after four minutes when the Ramblers went on a 9-0 run to lead 11-2 on Norris’ three-pointer—his first of 10 points in the first eight minutes of the game.
UNI, which had just eight turnovers in a 78-65 quarterfinal win over Illinois State, had six in the first 12 minutes against Loyola, finishing the game with 12.
The Panthers didn’t get back-to-back scores until Noah Carter’s rebound bucket with 4:44 left was followed by Bowen Born’s jumper. That sliced the LUC lead to 25-15, but the Panthers soon stretched it to 31-19 on a bucket-and-one by Tom Welch.
Green scored on back-to-back possessions to get the Panthers within 31-23 with 1:40 left in the half, but the Ramblers scored the last eight points of the first half with a Welch layup and triples by Lucas Williamson and Norris, taking a 39-23 lead to intermission.
Green scored the first five points of the second half on a three-pointer and two free throws. Part of a 10-2 start to the half, a Trae Berhow three-pointer with 15:10 left sliced the Rambler edge to 41-33.
But Ryan Schweiger, who had 12 points of the Rambler bench, hit two three-pointers and another trey by Norris gave the Panthers a 50-37 lead heading into the final 7:05. Austin Phyfe’s two free throws cut the lead back to 11, but UNI could get no closer.