Chicago, IL (SportsNetwork.com) - Game One of the College Basketball Invitation championship series tips off Monday night at Gentile Arena as the ULM Warhawks hit the road to face the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers in the start of the best-of-three series.
ULM, making its 10th postseason appearance in program history and first since the 1995-96 campaign, is on a three-game win streak after defeating Eastern Michigan (71-67), Mercer (71-69) and Vermont (71-65) to earn its spot in the CBI championship. The Warhawks are the first Sun Belt Conference team to ever win a game in the CBI.
This is Loyola-Chicago's first appearance in a postseason championship game or series since the Ramblers won the NCAA championship back in 1963. Loyola took down Rider (62-59), Oral Roberts (86-78) and Seattle (63-48) to earn its spot in this game.
Game One of the title series will also mark the first clash ever on the hardwood between the Warhawks and the Ramblers.
ULM may not have advanced through the Sun Belt Tournament far enough to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament, but the Warhawks are still on the national level in more ways than the CBI title series. ULM remains one of three teams in the entire country to have not allowed 75 points in a single game to an opponent (Baylor and Saint Peter's are the others). The Warhawks also own the nation's second-best turnaround from 2013-14 to 2014-15, with 14 more wins than last season. That was extended against a Vermont team last Wednesday when the Warhawks and Catamounts each connected on 25 field goals from the floor, but ULM owned an 18-8 scoring advantage from the free-throw line to help outpace the competition. Tylor Ongwae and Majok Deng each chipped in with 22 points to pace the team, while Deng added 11 rebounds. Jamaal Samuel contributed 14 points in the victory.
Ongwae and Deng head into the championship series as the only two players on ULM to average a double-digit scoring figure. Ongwae leads the charge with 14.5 ppg, followed by Deng's 10.6 ppg mark, although Deng is shooting a dismal 30.9 percent from the field. Deng owns a team-best 7.5 rpg, followed by Ongwae's 6.6 boards per outing. It hasn't been the smoothest season offensively for the Warhawks, who average 64.8 ppg on 42.9 percent shooting. But the team's defense has stepped up greatly by allowing just 60.3 ppg to opponents, who are converting 38.1 percent of their shots.
Loyola-Chicago isn't all that impressed with ULM's turnaround from a year ago. In fact, these two teams in the CBI championship series are among five total in the nation that won 22 or more this season after finishing with 10 or fewer victories a year ago. Loyola get the home advantage in the first game of the series, where the Ramblers have taken four straight and five of their last six decisions. Against Seattle in the semifinals, the Ramblers used a 14-0 run in the second half to separate from the Redhawks. Loyola doubled up Seattle from 3-point range, 24-12, to help pull of the victory. Earl Peterson and Devon Turk each chipped in 15 points to lead the team to the win.
The scoring has been relatively spread out for Loyola this season, with leading scorer Milton Doyle (11.5 ppg), who only played in 23 games this season, coming off the bench against Seattle in the semifinals. Christian Thomas is the only other Rambler to average a double-digit scoring figure heading into the title series at 11.2 ppg. He does it on an impressive 55.5 percent shooting. Montel James (9.3 ppg), Peterson (8.4 ppg) and Turk (8.3 ppg) all make solid contributions. Like ULM, Loyola's scoring has been sparse at times this season. The Ramblers head into Monday's game averaging 62.7 ppg, but they allow 60.4 ppg to opponents.