Throughout the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Loyola coach Porter Moser was reminded of his roots. Many of his former teammates at Creighton, where he played college basketball from 1986 to 1990, traveled to watch him guide the Ramblers to a 65-49 victory over Illinois State in the Missouri Valley Conference title game last weekend – clinching the program’s first NCAA tournament berth since 1985.
“We're connected for life,” he said. “I wanted that family atmosphere [at Loyola]. I wanted the closeness.”
The Naperville native has not only installed that vibe in his seventh season in Chicago, but he also has helped boost the team’s fan base with a winning attitude.
Loyola (28-5, 15-3 MVC) racked up a sellout in the regular-season finale against the Redbirds on Feb. 24 – in which the Ramblers picked up a 68-61 victory – their first full house since 2003. Moreover, their overall attendance has seen a 12.1 percent increase from last season, averaging 2,405 fans a game.
Moser first learned the value of a sold-out arena during his days at Benet Academy in Lisle. He was a part of the Redwings’ 102-game home winning streak from 1975 to 1987, as well as compiling a 70-14 record amid his three years on varsity. Moser recalled the unmatched enthusiasm at each high school gym he entered, hoping to continue that trend in college.
At Creighton, he suited up for two of the three Bluejays’ teams (1988 to '90) that notched three straight 20-win seasons for the first time in program history. Plus, he and his teammates won the Missouri Valley regular-season and conference tournament titles, advancing to March Madness before bowing out against Missouri in the first round.
“The culture of where I was at was about the team first,” Moser said. “Doing it the right way. Winning kids.”
His current roster boasts seven players who collected state championships in high school. Then, there's Jacobs graduate Cameron Krutwig.
The 6-foot-9, 260-pound center ranks fifth on Loyola in scoring (10.5 ppg) while shooting 60.2 percent from the field. The Ramblers’ personnel has even developed into one the best shooting teams in the nation – tied for fourth in the country in field goal percentage (50.7 percent).
In the second half of their MVC tournament title win against Illinois State, Krutwig recalled Moser stating they’d play through him from the high post against the Redbirds’ zone defense. The Algonquin native totaled nine of his 11 points in the final 20 minutes, along with producing a team-high nine rebounds.
“He (Moser) just said, ‘Go right at him,’” Krutwig said. “‘Don't be afraid.’”
Despite Loyola’s well-balanced floor-spacing lineups, the MVC Freshman of the Year noted how he’ll be prepared to do the same on college basketball's biggest stage.
In order for the team to have advanced this far, however, it was jump-started by Moser’s “no finish line” mindset. After the Ramblers’ 76-66 win Feb. 18 at Evansville – clinching at least a share of the regular-season conference championship – he aimed to ensure his unit wouldn’t settle the rest of the way. A few days later, Loyola took home the outright title with a 75-56 win at Southern Illinois.
“He's (Moser) been doing that all year, putting it in the bank, moving on to the next one,” Loyola point guard Clayton Custer said. “He kept us focused. He did a pretty good job of keeping us fresh, too.”
Although Moser admitted he’d reflect on returning to the NCAA tournament once the Ramblers’ season is over, he expressed his excitement for alumni and fans, who are still in awe about the program transforming into winner once again.
“Former (Loyola) players, Jerry Harness bear-hugged me,” he said. “I get a call from Alfredrick Hughes; you should hear the message, how excited he was. It obviously means a lot to me because that was my vision here.”