CHICAGO — Trailing by two points at halftime, Loyola of Chicago picked up its intensity in the second half to overcome a Louisiana-Monroe team with a noticeable height advantage.
Earl Peterson scored 16 points to lead a balanced offense as the scrappy Ramblers beat the Warhawks 65-58 Monday night in the opener of the College Basketball Invitational championship series.
Christian Thomas had 12 points, Montel James added 11 and Devon Turk 10 to help the Loyola (23-13) shake off a two-point halftime deficit to take command in the second half.
“I thought we were way more aggressive in the second half going north-south,” Loyola-Chicago coach Porter Moser said. “The other thing we talked about was transition. ... The rebound is the admission ticket to the fast break. I thought we rebounded better in the second half and therefore were able to run some more.”
The best-of-three series shifts to Monroe, La., for Game 2 on Wednesday, and Game 3 — if necessary — on Friday.
Trailing 26-24 at halftime, the Ramblers used a 13-5 run to take a 42-35 lead. Ben Richardson’s jumper later gave Loyola a 56-44 advantage, its biggest of the game.
“At halftime we talked about being more physical and I thought we did a better job,” Moser said. “If you’re going to win that battle with guys 6-10, 6-9, 6-7. You’ve got to put a body on them.”
Louisiana-Monroe pulled within three points with 4:32 to play but got no closer.
“We just couldn’t stop them, really and truly, all night long,” Louisiana-Monroe coach Keith Richard said. “We tried everything. We tried four-guard lineups, we tried zone, we tried man, we switched back to zone. We tried it all.”
Jamaal Samuel scored 15 points to lead the Warhawks (24-13). Tylor Ongwae had 12 points and 11 rebounds, Justin Roberson added 11 points and Majok Deng had 10.
“We had a lot of balls tipped out of our hands, we had a lot of missed layups and point-blank shows where Loyola-Chicago made all those plays,” Richard said.
It was the first all-time meeting between the teams and Loyola’s first game against a Sun Belt team since 2002.
Loyola led 10-7 at the 8:16 mark while Louisiana-Monroe managed was shooting just 3 for 12 from the field. But the Warhawks shook off the shaky early shooting with an 11-2 run over a span of 6:35 while the Ramblers shot just 1 for 5.
Loyola regained the lead at 17-16 on Turk’s 3-pointer with 4:40 left in the first half. Ongwae responded with a layup and helped the Warhawks take a 26-24 lead at halftime.