“I’m sorry for Sister Jean for busting her bracket, but we’re just happy to be in this position and to be going to the Elite Eight,” said guard Marques Townes, whose 3-pointer with 6.3 seconds left gave the Ramblers a 69-65 lead that proved insurmountable.
Townes took a pass from guard Clayton Custer, pump faked, took a hard dribble to his left and launched from the right wing. The shot was true, the Ramblers’ 29th basket in 52 field-goal attempts.
“I’ll probably remember it for the rest of my life,” Townes said. “It doesn’t really get any better than that.”
Photos from the NCAA Tournament
Loyola is onto the regional final for just the second time in school history. In its only other trip, the Ramblers won the tournament in 1963. They’re just the eighth 11th seed to make it this far since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
The Ramblers will try to become just the fourth of those eight to make it to the Final Four. As things would have it, the first team to do it – LSU in 1986 – did it by beating Kentucky in the old Omni, over which Philips Arena was built in the late 1990’s. (Loyola may well face the same Wildcats, who faced Kansas State in the second semifinal.)
Jittery and absent on defense, Loyola fell behind 20-8 in the first 6 ½ minutes of the game but survived by shutting out the Wolf Pack – who came into the game with the sixth most efficient offense in the country (KenPom) for the final 7:55 of the first half.
Out of halftime, the Ramblers switched to a small lineup and kept center Cameron Krutwig on the bench to start the second half for the first time this season. Moving the ball in the halfcourt, taking advantage of Nevada’s offensive impatience and running freely in transition, the Ramblers scored on their first 13 shots of the half, enabling them to take leads of as many as 12 points.
“I thought we’d go small and really push the tempo,” Loyola coach Porter Moser said. “It was a great suggestion by my assistant Bryan Mullins.”
Loyola has now defeated No. 6 seed Miami, No. 3 seed Tennessee and No. 7 seed Nevada by a total of four points. The Ramblers have won 20 of their past 21 games.
“When you have that winning gene, and I love that, these guys, they just keep believing,” Moser said.
Also, a winning Jean.