First, the good news: Eighth-ranked Loyola University on Thursday night held Bethel forward Tayla Foster, the NAIA’s leading scorer, to nine points on 3-for-21 shooting.
Then the not-so-good news for the Wolf Pack: Loyola’s offense mimicked Foster’s troubles, part of a disappointing performance at The Den.
Scoring troubles from the starting lineup, coupled with rebounding issues allowed fifth-ranked Bethel to escape with a 62-53 Southern States Athletic Conference win, sweeping this season’s home-and-away series.
Bethel (27-2, 17-0) won its 21st consecutive game. Loyola, meanwhile, fell to 23-3 overall and 14-3 in the SSAC — two losses this season have occurred against Bethel. Loyola ends the regular season Saturday afternoon at home against Belhaven before starting the SSAC Tournament on March 4 in Montgomery.
“I told them rebounding was the key to this game,” said Loyola coach Kellie Kennedy. “You can’t be that bad on the boards and struggle to score.”
Neither team enjoyed their normal offensive games, with Bethel converting 32 percent from the field and Loyola (30 percent) even worse.
“We really need everyone to do their jobs,” said Loyola point guard Janeicia Neely, the Wolf Pack’s lone double-digit scorer. The rest of the starting lineup finished with a combined 10 points.
“We have to get back to doing what got us here as we try to finish the season strong and get ready for the conference tournament.”
While Bethal point guard Martessia Williams scored 16 of her game-high 19 points in the second half and teammate Kenyatta Drake finished with more offensive rebounds (10) than Loyola (eight), Loyola guard Megan Whittaker (four points) suffered through her fourth-worst scoring output of the season, as well as just her fourth game during the 2014-15 season without a three-pointer, as she missed all nine attempts.
With the scored tied at 27-27 two minutes into the second half, Bethel went on a 9-2 run, capped by three-pointer by Mariah McKenty. Loyola then scored consecutive baskets, both by Neely.
But Loyola started to have problems against Drake. With 12:17 left, she rebounded Williams’ missed three-pointer then watched seconds later as Foster extended Loyola’s deficit to 39-33.
Neely added a third consecutive field goal, part of her 14-point second half, but she could not beat Bethel alone. Especially on the boards.
“It’s not that we didn’t give effort; we just didn’t give enough,” said forward Meghan Temple, who finished with four points on 2-for-7 shooting and nine rebounds. “We were making contact with them, but we need to do more.”
Loyola never closer than five points in the final 10 minutes, thanks to Drake. With four minutes left, Temple scored in the post, followed by two free throws from Neely, trimming Bethel’s lead to 53-48.
Then Drake ended a nearly two-minute offensive slump by both teams when she scored on a putback with 1:49 left.