The Ramblers (32-5), making their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1985, move on to San Antonio, where in a week they will face Michigan, the winner of the West Region as its No. 3 seed.
“All summer long we were like, ‘Why not us?” said Loyola Coach Porter Moser, who navigated heavy congestion in the postgame mayhem to find his family in the stands. “The opportunity and how much they invested in it, this is not something where it just started. These guys have been investing a long time in how hard they worked and how hard they believed.”
The improbable march to the Final Four, Loyola’s first since 1963 when it won the national championship, means the sporting world gets treated to more of the most famous nun in the land, 98-year-old Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt, who led the Ramblers in prayer, as usual, before tip-off in the locker room.
No divine intervention proved necessary at Philips Arena, where an announced crowd of 15,477 witnessed Loyola storm to a 54-33 lead with 13:23 left in the second half thanks to 13-4 run that included a four-point play from guard Ben Richardson, who was fouled while sinking a fadeaway basket beyond the arc.
Redshirt junior guard Clayton Custer also connected on a three-pointer in the decisive rush during which the only field goal for Kansas State (25-12) came via Xavier Sneed’s tip-in.
The Wildcats threatened only modestly the rest of the way, getting within 61-48 on Kamau Stokes’s driving layup with 5:09 to play, but Richardson’s three-pointer on the ensuing possession calmed the proceedings for Loyola, which made 12 of 15 free throws over the final three minutes.
Richardson, named South Region most outstanding player, scored 23 points, going 6 of 7 from beyond the arc, to lead the Ramblers, who presumably would have won by an even wider margin had it not been for a 28-2 deficit in points off turnovers.
Loyola made up for that staggering imbalance with 57 percent shooting, hitting 9 of 18 three-pointers and going 15 for 18 at the foul line.
“I’ve got to credit my teammates for finding me,” Richardson said. “That’s what so special about our team. We’ve got so many unselfish guys, and we have so many weapons. Like we’ve been saying, it can be anybody’s night, you know? And we’ve showed that so far this tournament.”
For Kansas State, which got 16 points and six rebounds from Sneed but again played without ailing top scorer and rebounder Dean Wade, the South Region final marked the second time in this NCAA tournament it has been cast as the villain standing in the way of a far smaller program’s path to further glory.
During the round of 32 in Charlotte, the Wildcats ended the season for Maryland Baltimore County, a nationally embraced underdog success story after it became the first No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 by shocking ACC champion Virginia, 74-54.
The Retrievers’ victory underscored the chaotic nature of the South Region, which had its four top seeds bow out in the opening weekend of the tournament, the first time that has happened.
The Wildcats dispatched the highest remaining seed thereafter in the South Region when they outlasted No. 5 Kentucky, 61-58, on Thursday night, mucking up the proceedings with plenty of jostling throughout and dictating the tempo to their liking.
Loyola coaches and players remained in the arena to watch that game following their 69-68 win against No. 7 seed Nevada, labeled a cardiac bunch on the heels of erasing deficits of 14 and 22, respectively, in the second half to rally past No. 10 seed Texas in the round of 64 and second-seeded Cincinnati two days later. Scouting Kansas State along with Ramblers Coach Porter Moser and his staff was, as customary, Sister Jean, who not only serves as a spiritual good-luck charm but also as an honorary assistant.
The longtime basketball aficionado — she played high school basketball in San Francisco from 1933 to ’37 — compares notes with Moser, and the partnership has yielded positive though nail-biting results.
Loyola’s three tournament triumphs entering Saturday night’s region final came by a combined four points, and each thriller featured decisive baskets in the closing seconds, including Donte Ingram’s deep three-pointer just before the final buzzer for a 64-62 victory over No. 6 seed Miami in the round of 64 in Dallas.
The drama continued for the Ramblers from virtually the moment they arrived in Atlanta. An escort who was supposed to accompany them on the bus ride from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to the hotel never showed, and, according to Moser, it took roughly 40 minutes and any number of wrong turns before the team finally reached its intended destination.
“You know, I told our guys, it’s our first thing to overcome,” Moser said earlier in the week, “and it’s like getting a couple turnovers early. You’ve got to put it behind you and overcome.”
The Ramblers committed three early turnovers in the regional final, but otherwise the first half began quite nicely for them thanks to 10 consecutive early points. The half ended with the Ramblers leading, 36-24, courtesy of Richardson’s three-pointer from the right corner. After the shot with 13 seconds remaining, the senior jogged down the sideline smiling confidently toward Loyola fans as they chanted, “L-U-C, L-U-C, L-U-C.”
“We put on the board toughness and discipline, and they were tougher than us from the get-go,” Kansas State Coach Bruce Weber said. “They were physical, very disciplined, and then they had Ben Richardson step up and had his shining moment, his magic game, and that’s what you need. We had a couple of those, and they had it today, and we just didn’t have enough to answer.”
Is it really going to happen? Kansas State made a furious 14-3 run to climb back into the game, and cut what was a 23-point Loyola Chicago lead down to 12 points with four minutes to play.
You may be wondering at this point, How many 11-seeds have made it to the Final Four before?
Well, we have the answer. Three 11-seeds have earned Final Four berths: LSU (1986), George Mason (2006) and VCU (2011).
Loyola Chicago is en route to becoming the fourth.
Make it 19 — a nineteen-point lead, 52-33, for the Loyola Chicago Ramblers with 14 minutes to play against Kansas State in the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament (no, this is not a drill).
Ben Richardson has 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting, including 4-of-5 from three-point range. Donte Ingram has 10 points.
The Ramblers are out-rebounding the Wildcats, 22-15, and out-assisting them, 12-5.
Loyola Chicago’s success is continuing in the second half. The Ramblers took a 15-point lead with 16 minutes to play on a four-point play from Ben Richardson.
March Madness keeps rambling on.
Through one half in the Elite Eight, Loyola Chicago — a No. 11 seed — has a 36-24 lead over Kansas State. The NCAA tournament’s Cinderella is 20 minutes away from the Final Four.
Ben Richardson leads the Ramblers with 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting. Freshman center Cameron Krutwig is dominating the Wildcats inside, with seven points and five rebounds. Kansas State’s top two big men each have two fouls thanks to dealing with Krutwig in the paint.
Loyola opened the game on a 15-5 run and finished the half on 9-2 streak which included this layup, plus the foul, by Lucas Williamson.
Barry Brown leads Kansas State with nine points. The Wildcats are shooting 37 percent from the field and 22 percent from three point range.
Through the first 20 minutes, Sister Jean and Loyola are rolling.
ATLANTA — When Porter Moser arrived as Loyola Chicago’s men’s basketball coach in 2011, the roster wasn’t exactly dotted with players destined for the NBA, but he sensed a potential breakthrough with the right additions.
He began recruiting players from the Chicago area, and it eventually paid off with the current roster, which includes a handful of players who have contributed to the Ramblers’ improbable march to Sunday’s South Region final against Kansas State.
Loyola has five players from within 40 miles of the Chicago campus, a target demographic for Moser, a native of the Chicago area. They helped the Ramblers secured their first bid to the NCAA tournament since 1985 by winning the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. In another satisfying turn, that 65-49 victory was over Illinois State, the program that fired Moser in 2011 after consecutive losing seasons.
This past season, Moser was voted MVC coach of the year and is on the verge of becoming the first coach since Shaka Smart in 2011 to lead a No. 11 seed to the Final Four.
In 2006, Jim Larranaga also pulled off an unexpected run when he directed George Mason to the Final Four.
Both Smart and Larranaga wound up taking jobs at high major schools after their memorable jaunts through the NCAA tournament.
“You know, like you know from being there in Chicago, it was a grass-roots rebuild,” Moser said. “But the dynamics changed when you jump to the Missouri Valley, when we jumped. The first year we took a step back, and then that second year in the Valley, we won 24 games, and we won the CBI tournament.
“And we’ve just kind of been building and getting our arrow going up. And I think — I hope we’re an example of, you know, it takes time. I get it. I’ve been there. Fans, administrations, they want it so fast, and it’s tough.”
Schedule: Loyola (31-5) and Kansas State (25-11) will tip off at 6:09 p.m. Saturday on TBS.
How Loyola got here:
- The Ramblers knocked off No. 6 seed Miami in a first-round thriller, 64-62, inching ahead when Donte Ingram connected on a long three-pointer as time was running out. It was their first NCAA tournament game (and win) since a 1985 trip that ended against Patrick Ewing and Georgetown in the Sweet 16. And it made Sister Jean into a national sensation.
- More late-game dramatics against No. 3 Tennessee: Clayton Custer hit the go-ahead basket with less than four seconds left in a 63-62 win. That victory gave the Ramblers their 30th win, breaking the school record set by the 1963 NCAA championship team. And it put a focus on the Chicago school’s oddball charm.
- Another game, another big shot: Marques Townes hit a backbreaking three-pointer with less than seven seconds left to help clinch a 69-68 win over No. 7 seed Nevada. That made it three tournament wins by a total of four points. And the Ramblers’ uber-efficient offense means they won’t need divine intervention to reach the Final Four.
How Kansas State got here:
- The Wildcats led No. 8 Creighton from start to finish in a 69-59 win, despite playing without leading scorer Dean Wade, out with a stress fracture suffered in the Big 12 conference tournament. The win clinched Kansas State’s first trip to the round of 32 since 2012.
- Playing the unexpected role of heavy favorites, the Wildcats knocked off tournament darlings UMBC, 50-43. UMBC had been the first No. 16 seed ever to beat a No. 1 seed. Barry Brown had 18 points as Kansas State advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2010.
- Back in the underdog role, the Wildcats downed eight-time national champion and fifth-seeded Kentucky, 61-58. (Don’t ask about the postgame handshakes.) Kansas State, which hasn’t made a Final Four since 1964, beat Kentucky despite attempting 15 fewer free throws and being out-rebounded, 38-29. And the win set up the first matchup between a No. 9 and a No. 11 seed in NCAA tournament history.
Regular season results:
Loyola easily won the Missouri Valley regular season title, finishing 15-3 in league games (and 25-5 overall), four games clear of anyone else. Guard Clayton Custer was the league’s player of the year; three of the Ramblers’ five losses came when he was out with an injured ankle. Loyola added its first-ever Missouri Valley tournament title, getting a No. 11 seed in the NCAA tournament. Ben Richardson earned the Valley”s defensive player of the year award, Cameron Krutwig was the freshman of the year, and Moser was the coach of the year.
Kansas State finished fourth in the surging Big 12 conference, with a 21-10 overall record and a 10-8 mark in league games. The Wildcats were 10-4 against league opponents other than Texas Tech and Kansas, which both join Kansas State in the Elite Eight. The Wildcats suffered another loss to Kansas in the Big 12 tournament semifinals — playing without star forward Dean Wade — and earned a No. 9 seed in the NCAA tournament. Wade, a 6-foot-10 junior, averaged 16.7 points and 6.4 rebounds in the regular season and became the first Kansas State player to make first-team all-Big 12 in five years. He’s barely played in this event, though.
More NCAA tournament coverage: