After the Loyola sophomore boys beat Evanston on the road in the final game of the regular season Feb. 8, head coach Brian Murphy knew his team had made progress.
“Maybe they were paying attention all year,” Murphy joked. “They took a major step forward that game. They played like they got what we were teaching them.”
Loyola then went on to win the Catholic League tournament title to finish the season 20-7.
The Ramblers, who finished first in the league at 8-1 during the regular season, beat St. Rita 65-63 on a buzzer-beating tip-in by Armoni Dixon in the Feb. 18 championship at Mount Carmel. A few hours earlier in the semifinals, Loyola overcame a second-half deficit to defeat Brother Rice 55-53.
“Everything we worked on culminated with the conference tournament, mentally and physically,” Murphy said. “A few weeks ago, I don’t think we beat Brother Rice or St. Rita the way we did.”
It was the first time in Murphy’s three seasons as head coach the Ramblers won the tournament title and second time they finished first in the regular season. They also beat rival St. Ignatius 48-39 to capture the Jesuit Cup.
Loyola’s strength was its offense, according to Murphy.
Sophomore Connor Barrett, a 6-foot-2 guard who was the team’s MVP, led the Ramblers with 15.7 points a game, while 6-1 sophomore guard Mac Hubbard averaged 14.5 points. Hubbard made five 3-pointers and scored a team-best 20 points in win over St. Ignatius.
“Both are talented and athletic offensive players who can put the ball in the basket,” Murphy said. “Connor handles it well and can go off the bounce. Mac can run away and spot up. Both are good shooters. They worked really well with each other this season.”
Freshman twins Bennett and Jordan Kwiecinski were impactful players in their first season of high school basketball. The 6-5 Bennett was named Loyola’s most improved player.
“He’s super coachable,” Murphy said. “Whatever you ask him to do he will immediately to try to employ it. He’s got to get stronger, better at shooting and going to the rim. But he’s come a long way.”
Jordan, a 6-6 point guard, made big strides forward this season, too. Murphy said the two arrived at Loyola as projects, but both brothers have the potential to contribute to the varsity in the coming seasons.
“The sky is the limit for those two,” Murphy said.
An invaluable member to the sophomore team, the 6-2 Dixon earned the Rambler Award for the player who best executed the intangibles. He gave the team an athletic player at the No. 5 position.
“He was on a different level than most players and often was the best athlete on the floor,” Murphy said. “He was player we needed to be successful.”
The sophomore team wasn’t the only lower level team to find success in 2016-17. The freshman A team finished 21-5 and 7-2 in conference play, while the freshman B team went 21-4 and 7-0.
“The future of the program looks good,” Murphy said.