INDIANAPOLIS — Jose Alvarado stood at halfcourt, his hands at his hips. Under his feet was the NCAA logo for March Madness, representing the tournament that Georgia Tech’s linchpin guard had dreamed of playing in from his childhood and had finally earned his chance as a senior.

Victorious Loyola Chicago players excitedly made their exit, 71-60 winners Friday afternoon over the Yellow Jackets in a first-round NCAA Tournament matchup. Afternoon light filtered in through translucent panels high above the Hinkle Fieldhouse court. Their time at this college basketball shrine and in the tournament now run out, Alvarado’s teammates gathered around him to give him fives and solace. His head was down.

His navy jersey bore the No. 5 that teammate Moses Wright had worn the past three seasons, with high distinction this season. With Wright unable to play Friday because of the cruelest cut – he was in isolation after having tested positive for COVID-19 – Alvarado wore it to honor his teammate, with whom he had helped raise the team from a 13-19 record and 13th-place finish in their freshman seasons to its first ACC championship since 1993 and its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2010.

Credit: NCAA

Georgia Tech basketball coach Josh Pastner addresses first-round 71-60 loss to Loyola Chicago in NCAA Tournament.

His walk off the court slowed to a stop. He stood on the baseline, hands clasped behind his head. Senior associate athletic director Marvin Lewis, whose own Tech career ended in NCAA Tournament defeat (albeit in the 2004 national championship game), wrapped his left arm around Alvarado’s chest.

“Trying to soak it all in,” he said later.

A week earlier, Alvarado had been similarly reluctant to leave the floor at the Greensboro Coliseum. That night, he was wearing an ACC champions cap on his head and a basketball net around his neck. He took one last look and then stepped off the hardwood.

“The worst pain is I was going out there trying to win it for ‘Mo,’” Alvarado said.

In circumstances that may never replicate themselves, Tech’s season of returning a fallen program to an upright state met its end Friday with its best player unavailable because he tested positive for the once-in-a-century virus four days before his own long-awaited turn in the NCAA Tournament was to begin. Alvarado, whose relentlessness and skill development in many ways define the arc of coach Josh Pastner’s tenure, led a game effort by the Jackets to win without Wright, but could not pull it off.

“I’m just glad Khalid (Moore), Rodney (Howard), Kyle (Sturdivant), all the guys, Bubba (Parham), stepped up, but we sure did miss ‘Mo,’” Alvarado said. “Yeah, we missed Mo.”

The absence of Wright, the ACC player of the year and a versatile and impactful forward, was hard to miss. It was felt perhaps most deeply on the backboards, where eighth-seeded Loyola, not a team that typically earns many second-chance opportunities, roasted the ninth-seeded Jackets with them Friday.

Out of its 29 available rebounding chances on its end, Loyola claimed 13 of them, 44.8%. Coach Porter Moser’s team had not recorded a higher percentage since the 2014-15 season. The Ramblers converted those opportunities into 15 points.

Tech, meanwhile, could get its hands on only one rebound out of 18 chances (5.6%) and that was with less than 30 seconds left and the Jackets scrambling to stay in the game. A small team by ACC standards even with Wright, the Jackets were no rebounding powerhouse, but they fared worse percentage-wise than they did in four games against North Carolina and Florida State, two of the tallest teams in Division I.

The dagger may have been plunged with 3:37 to play. Loyola led 59-54 when Marquise Kennedy stepped to the line for a one-and-one. He missed, but the ball was tapped out to Keith Clemons, who was wide open for a 3-pointer and a 62-54 lead with 3:33 to play.

“I thought we were small sometimes defensively,” Pastner said.

Credit: NCAA

Georgia Tech basketball coach Josh Pastner comments on the 71-60 loss to Loyola Chicago in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Tech (17-9) ended its season with a commendable effort without the ACC player of the year available. Loyola (25-4), champions of the Missouri Valley Conference, punished the Jackets with offense that moved the ball and generated a slew of open 3-point shots. The Ramblers were 11-for-27 from 3-point range, exploiting the Jackets’ weak 3-point defense. Tech was able to slow down third-team All-American center Cameron Krutwig (10 points, five rebounds), but its attention to him opened up chances for his perimeter-shooting teammates.

Loyola’s extra chances and its 3-point marksmanship overcame an efficient offensive performance by Tech, minus the offensive rebounding. The Jackets made 57.4% of their shots, but took six fewer shots (47 to 53) and couldn’t match Loyola’s 3-point shooting. Tech was 3-for-10 from beyond the arc.

Tech was led by forward Jordan Usher, who scored 15 points on 7-for-9 shooting.

The Jackets started the game charged up, jumping to a 13-3 lead as they applied pressure on defense to create turnovers and transition scoring opportunities. Moser called timeout after guard Michael Devoe jumped a pass on the perimeter and raced in for a layup for the 13-3 advantage. The pressure out of the Jackets’ 1-3-1 zone, with defenders getting up close on whoever had the ball, was clearly bothering the Ramblers.

The cluster of Tech fans raised a noise that filled the venerable building with life. It was early, but the Jackets had established that they were here to fight.

Tech’s supporters included two of its all-time greats, Roger Kaiser and Bobby Cremins. Kaiser was last in the building in 1967 as a member of an Indiana high-school all-star team with his wife (then girlfriend) Beverly in the stands.

“I think it looks different,” she said.

At that point, Loyola had turned the ball over four times in its first eight possessions. But the Ramblers settled down, working the Tech defense for open shots. They turned it over only twice in their final 18 possessions of the half. That and a series of unproductive drives to the basket on Tech’s part enabled the Ramblers to close the half on an 13-2 run to lead 30-25 at halftime.

Credit: NCAA

Georgia Tech guard Jose Alvarado comments on the NCAA Tournament loss to Loyola Chicago and playing without Moses Wright.

Tech rallied to take a 43-40 lead at the 11:55 mark on a dunk by forward Khalid Moore on a transition opportunity created by a steal by guard Bubba Parham, who took Wright’s spot in the starting lineup. But Loyola answered with consecutive 3-pointers (the second was after Alvarado stationed himself for a charge, but was called for a block), part of a 10-0 run that gave Loyola a 50-43 lead with 9:31 left. Tech closed to five points twice. Tech continued to stay within striking distance, but the 3-pointer off the missed free throw seemed to stagger the Jackets.

Pastner said that he teared up in the locker room speaking to the team, thanking each team member for his contributions.

“I love every single one of them and can’t express my gratitude enough for these young men,” he said.

After the game, Alvarado left wide open the possibility that he could return for his extra senior season granted by the NCAA, but at other times spoke of his career in the past tense.

“It was a rough four years,” Alvarado said. “It was a fun journey. These guys trusted me, I trusted them. Coach Pastner put the ball in my hands since my freshman year and told me to get the job done. I don’t know if I did or not, but he trusted me and my teammates believed in me from the jump.

“Georgia Tech changed my life. It was one hell of a ride.”