After two gut-wrenching losses to rivals Dubuque and Wartburg, the Loras men’s basketball team needed some good fortune.
They had to battle hard to find it, but the Duhawks got back on the winning path Saturday at the Loras Athletic & Wellness Center.
Loras gained momentum behind a late first-half scoring surge, and parlayed that into a strong second-half effort, defeating Buena Vista, 78-63.
For much of the first half, the Duhawks (12-5, 4-4 American Rivers Conference) were playing catch-up, consistently chasing six and eight-point deficits.
The Beavers jumped to their largest advantage, 32-20, at the 6:15 mark, looking to build a commanding halftime lead.
Cole Navigato had other ideas.
The Duhawk senior forward reeled of six crucial points, sparking a 14-2 run to close the first half and pull his team into a 34-34 tie heading into the break.
“That’s kinda our weakness, is falling behind early in the game,” Navigato said. “We’re always able to come back. We’ve got great players that can score the ball, and we got some huge stops to get back into the game.”
Loras carried that momentum into the second half, charging out of the locker room on an 8-2 scoring run, behind two baskets from Jackson Kolinski, and grabbed its first lead since the game’s opening minutes.
It was a lead they would not relinquish.
In a complete reversal of the first 20 minutes of play, the Duhawks flipt the script on the Beavers, controlling a comfortable margin for the entirety of the second half.
“If we can put that together for 40 minutes, I think we are the top team in the conference,” Navigato said. “But that’s just something we’re kind of working on, to do it for all 40 minutes, and when we do I think we’ll be right there at the top for the conference tournament.”
A pair of 3-pointers from Ali Sabet pushed Loras’ lead to 62-50 with 9:03 remaining. Buena Vista clawed back within six points, but the Duhawks’ hot second-half shooting prevented them from getting any closer.
Loras connected on 57 % of its field goal attempts during the final 20 minutes of play, and shot a clutch 9-for-11 from the free-throw line.
The Duhawks have now won three straight against Buena Vista and Saturday’s victory halted a six-game conference winning streak for the Beavers.
Navigato led Loras with 22 points, Sabet had 15, and Kolinski finished with 13.
“Buena Vista is a great basketball team, they are near the top of the conference right now,” Navigato said. “If we can stay healthy and keep doing the right things in practice, we will be in great shape.”
It was senior day for the Duhawk women and they were not about to disappoint their home fans.
Honoring seniors Maesyn Benjamin, Hannah Thiele, Jaime Ryan and Sydney Schuler, Loras put on a first-half clinic and ran away from visiting Buena Vista early en route to an 88-57 victory.
The Duhawks have won seven in a row over the Beavers and improved to 12-5 overall and 6-2 in the American Rivers Conference.
The game started with Buena Vista conceding the opening tip as Loras’ Ryan tapped it to her teammate and roommate Benjamin — a senior sidelined all season with an ACL injury — spawning a nice ovation from the home fans.
“It was really special for me, especially because my roommate was able to tip me the ball,” said Benjamin, who is still not cleared to play and exited after the opening tip. “I wasn’t able to play this year and it actually took a toll more on my teammates than it did on me just because we were so close throughout the four years.
“So, to have that moment was really special. I know my teammates were really excited the entire time, even more excited than me.”
The Duhawks seized command early.
Loras chewed up much of the first quarter on a 17-2 run, led by 11 points from Sami Martin.
Five straight points from Thiele early in the second quarter put the Duhawks ahead, 31-13, and they kept pouring it on from there.
The Duhawks increased the lead to 43-17 behind a stretch of four consecutive 3-pointers. Thiele drained two, and Ryan and Emerson Whittenbaugh each knocked one down from long range, as Loras closed the first half on a 14-2 spurt, carrying a 48-19 lead into the locker room.
“It was unreal”, Benjamin said. “We were lighting it up from 3. We always say that we like to make it rain in our gym, so we made it rain today.”
Loras outscored Buena Vista, 24-12, behind four more triples in the third quarter to put an exclamation point on the game’s outcome. They finished with 15 makes from behind the 3-point arc.
“Our team is finally clicking and we’re gonna be competitive always,” Benjamin said. “We just have to put together those last little itty gritty details, and we’re gonna be a team that contends, which is really exciting. It’s fun to be a part of.”
Five Duhawks reached double digits in scoring, led by Cierra Bachmann’s 15 points. Martin finished with 13, Thiele and Madison Fleckenstein added 12 apiece, and Whittenbaugh chipped in 11.