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.
Mick Lite served for 12 years in the military and is now an entrepreneur and photographer. Has worked as the official scorer and social media manager for the River City Rascals, Statistician for the Missouri Monsters and St. Louis Attack arena football teams, and as the Team Photographer and social media consultant for the St. Charles Chill, SLU Hockey, St. Louis Slam, and Gateway Grizzlies.