The teams were playing the “Game of Change” to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the two schools’ historic meeting in the 1963 NCAA Tournament. It was MSU’s first-ever athletic competition against segregated opposition. In honor of the anniversary of this special occasion, the teams played last year in Illinois and then again Sunday in Starkville.
MSU improved to 5-1 overall with its second-straight win and first win against Loyola. The Ramblers fell to 3-5. The Bulldogs conclude a three-game homestand with TCU Thursday night in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.
“This is really good that this game happened,” MSU coach Rick Ray said. “When I first got contacted about playing this game, I really didn’t know much about what had happened. Mississippi has some negative conations, so to see something special like this is really great.”
“As far as Mississippi State goes, overtime was good to us this week.”
The basketball Bulldogs were on hardwood four days after Thanksgiving weekend opened with MSU defeating arch-rival Ole Miss in overtime in the final regular season football game for both teams.
Sunday’s basketball contest was nip-and-tuck throughout. The score was tied 13 times and the lead changed hands 20 times. The largest lead for Loyola was seven points in the first half and the largest lead for MSU was six points in the second half.
Sword scored 24 points – one shy of his career high – to lead the Bulldogs’ offensive efforts. With leading scorer Gavin Ware held scoreless, Johnson poured in a career-high 20 points.
“Craig really does so many things well on both ends of the floor,” Ray said. “His decision making is really good once he gets to the rim now. We knew we had to get some points inside. We thought we would get them from either Gavin (Ware) or Colin (Borchert), but we didn’t. Instead, Roquez was really good. He was a dominating force at finding a way to get to the rim.”
The Bulldogs won their second straight decision at the final horn, with the win coming on the heels of 58-56 decision over Jackson State.
“(Winning close games) is great for us,” Sword said. “We have a full roster now, so we are just going to compete. We are going to do what we do every day in practice. We play with a lot of confidence and we feel like somebody is going to make plays.”
The Bulldogs struggled out of the gates early offensively. MSU held a 9-8 lead before Loyola reeled off a 10-2 run for an 18-11 lead.
MSU battled back on top at 23-22 on a free throw by Sword. The lead would grow to 27-24 on two free throws by Johnson. Loyola then battled back for a 29-all tie at halftime.
In the second half, Loyola led 38-33 before MSU answered with an 11-0 run. Tyson Cunningham hit back-to-back 3-point baskets to spark the run. The lead stood at 44-38 on a Sword layup with 12:10 left in the contest.
The lead went back and forth a few more times before Milton Doyle hit a 3-pointer for Loyola to tie the contest at 56 with 1:09 left in the contest.
Loyola built a four-point lead in overtime at 60-56. A dunk by Sword capped a 5-0 run as MSU grabbed a 61-60 lead. A 9-2 run by MSU ran the lead to 65-62 with 54 seconds left in the overtime. From there, the Bulldogs held on as the Ramblers missed an off-balanced 3-pointer as the horn sounded.
For the contest, the Bulldogs hit 22 of 47 shots from the field (46.8 percent), 4 of 16 shots from 3-point range (25.0 percent) and 17 of 28 shots from the foul line (60.7 percent). The Ramblers hit 23 of 54 shots from the field (42.6 percent), 6 of 19 shots from 3-point range (31.6 percent) and 12 of 14 shots from the foul line (85.7 percent).
Loyola held a 35-27 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had 10 assists and a season-low nine turnovers, while the Ramblers had 12 assists and 14 turnovers.
Johnson posted his first double-double of the season by adding a team-high 11 rebounds.
Loyola received 22 points from Milton Doyle, 12 points from Christian Thomas and 10 points from Devon Turk.