Loyola senior Kevin Cunningham pumped his fist in celebration a little more than usual after the Ramblers beat No. 14 DePaul Prep 48-38 on Friday in Wilmette.
His extra exuberance is understandable. The victory was more than just a big Catholic League Blue win for Loyola, it was validation that the Ramblers are a serious threat in the area this season.
“We’ve just been getting better as the year goes on and it is exciting,” Cunningham said.
“[Playing in Florida over the holidays] did something to our team, it galvanized us,” Loyola coach Tom Livatino said. “We have always been a tight group, but that trip takes it to a new level. We come back and we don’t want to let each other down.”
This is a fairly typical Livatino-version of Loyola. The Ramblers get by on guts and defense and three-point shooting. Cunningham is the special player that sort of makes all the pieces fit into more than the sum of their parts. He had 16 points and seven rebounds.
Loyola (15-2, 3-1) only had three turnovers in the game. That kept DePaul Prep (14-4, 2-1) from getting transition baskets, which put a lot of pressure on junior Perry Cowan to score in the half-court offense.
Cowan had 21 points, he’s one of the area’s best shooters. But there were too many possessions where the Rams couldn’t get a basket.
“Earlier in the year we were getting stops but our shooting was too inconsistent,” Cunningham said. “Now a lot of guys are stepping up. Pete [Mangan] has been great all year. [Twins Jordan and Bennett Kwiecinski] are really coming along nicely.”
Mangan and junior Connor Barrett each scored 11 points. The Kwiecinski twins, 6-7 sophomores, are intriguing prospects. Bennett scored five points, including a fast break dunk.
“Our length bothered them a little,” Livatino said. “The [Kwiecinski’s] are starting to grow up. You can see the potential there. Bennet had the dunk and the three and Jordan had some big free throws.”
Juniors Raheem Anthony and Pavle Pantovic each scored five points for the Rams.
Loyola has won nine consecutive games. The Ramblers have wins again Brother Rice, Lincoln Park and St. Viator.
“We’re finishing games better,” Cunningham said. “Earlier in the year we played Notre Dame, we won the game, but they probably scored 13 points at the end because they pressured us. Tonight when DePaul was pressuring us we did a lot better job.”
Loyola expected to have one of the state’s star attractions this season, freshman Patrick Baldwin Jr. He played with the Ramblers in June but moved to Milwaukee when his father, an assistant at Northwestern, became the head coach at Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Baldwin is one of the best freshmen in the country.
“It definitely hurt losing him but I think we’ve bounced back really nicely,” Cunningham said.
“It was bittersweet,” Livatino said. “He’s doing great in Milwaukee and that was obviously a fantastic opportunity for his family. But of course we are missing out on having him and the whole state of Illinois is missing out on seeing him play.”Tags: DePaul Prep, Loyola