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Loyola Chicago vs. Michigan: Ramblers almost pull another miracle before Wagner carries Wolverines to victory

98-year-old Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, the Loyola Ramblers chaplain, spoke to reporters ahead of the team's game against Michigan. (Video: Reuters)

Once Loyola Chicago finished reestablishing on Saturday that its surge to the Final Four had happened because of polished, airtight merit, Michigan finished chasing down Loyola Chicago. When the height and might of the Wolverines finally found its way to outflank the Ramblers, the NCAA tournament bracket that kept Loyola Chicago snugly in its midst for three giddy weeks finally went ahead and let it go.

It became Michigan, the No. 3 seed that brought to the Alamodome its 13-game winning streak, which finally would see off a Ramblers team, its oft-gorgeous offense and its rock-star 98-year-old chaplain, Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt. The Wolverines saved their surge for the closing eight minutes, gaining a 69-57 win in their program’s ninth Final Four and their second under 11-season Coach John Beilein. They earned date for the closing Monday night opposite Villanova.

As the Ramblers aimed to become the first No. 11 seed to reach a national title game, and as they looked like that No. 11 seeding had been some sort of mirage, Michigan tried to whack away at a 32-22 deficit that struck it early in the second half. At moments, it seemed like it might keep whacking fruitlessly as its shot persistently banged off the rim. Finally, with the deficit at 47-42 with 7:44 left, the dam broke.

When the 6-foot-11, multifaceted German import Moritz Wagner took the ball reasonably close to the basket with seven minutes left, then backed up into three-point range on the right, then drained the shot that tied the score at last at 47-47, he had just made Michigan’s 19th field goal in 51 tries.

The scoring would ease from there, while the defense on Loyola’s blissfully structured offense would do hard business. While it plucked turnovers repeatedly through the key stretch, it ensured that Loyola Chicago’s textbook passing kept amounting to nothing.

Jordan Poole, whose audacious closing shot in the second round against Houston kept Michigan in the tournament, found himself open low on the right. That spawned two free throws and a 49-47 lead. Things started rolling. Wagner, who must have decided he’d need an assist to accompany his 24 points and 15 rebounds, would ship a beaut of a pass low to Charles Matthews for a reverse layup. Poole would miss a three-point shot from the left corner, but, with 4:59 left, Wagner would direct it back downward into the basket, drawing a foul.

When he hit, it was 54-47, and it was all different. Openings kept coming. Wagner barged in from the right to take Zavier Simpson’s pass for a layup. Wagner, whose low-post battles with very-big boy Cameron Krutwig helped define the game, rained in a three-pointer from the top for a 59-51 lead with 2:59 left, and as Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman made a drive built on superior talent to score with 2:13 left, the last of Loyola Chicago’s month of fetching resistance seemed to fade.

March had ended.

While it was still going, and the Ramblers had an unplanned meeting when Coach Porter Moser had to take a timeout just past seven minutes into the game, they had trailed 12-4. They had made shooting in a dome look like . . . shooting in a dome. They had made two shots out of 10, had seen three layups in traffic roll off the rim and had six rebounds to Michigan’s gathering collection of 12. Already, Wagner had done twice what would become Michigan’s best, yet makeshift, offensive method of the first half: taking a missed shot and putting it back in.

From there to halftime, the game made itself a hairpin turn, Loyola Chicago playing the last duration of the first half while crafting a 25-10 scoring advantage in that last 12:38. Loyola Chicago would make eight of its final 14 first-half shots. Michigan would make clangs from the clunky to the clunkier, winding up 9 for 31, or 29 percent. It made two of 13 three-point attempts.

The Ramblers, meanwhile, tried only three such shots, so that it mattered little that they made none. They got an Aundre Jackson drive that earned him two free throws, then one of their trademark pretty bounce passes, from Clayton Custer to Jackson for an uncontested layup, then a swish on the run from the left of the key from Marques Townes.

They were back in it, back demonstrating how their No. 11 seeding had been a mirage. Krutwig kept fielding the ball down low to tussle with Wagner, and Krutwig came out of it with a rattle-in layup on a pass from Custer, a delicious left hook from the lane and some free throws. Clearly under the impression it belonged squarely alongside a Big Ten tournament champion with a 13-game winning streak and a humongous name.

Pretty soon, when Krutwig had opened the second half muscling in a shot through a Wagner foul, then let out some kind of guttural scream, Loyola Chicago led by 10, looking like it might have a big name itself.

Maybe it did already. — Chuck Culpepper


In-game updates:

Wagner does in Loyola Chicago

Michigan’s Moe Wagner killed Loyola-Chicago’s magical run to the Final Four on Saturday night, scoring 24 points and grabbing 15 rebounds as the Wolverines ran away from the Ramblers with a 69-57 win.

Wagner was monstrous down the stretch, keying a 17-2 run that helped the Wolverines erase a nine-point deficit and reach the national championship for the first time since 2013. Wagner’s dagger came with the Ramblers trailing by just five with just over three minutes remaining, when he did this:

Wagner didn’t stop running for loose balls even with his team up by eight in the final minutes, when he nearly took out CBS broadcasters Bill Raftery and Grant Hill and shared a moment with both after:

Loyola-Chicago’s Sister Jean was wheeled out of the arena shortly after.

Michigan will go for the title against the winner of Villanova-Kansas on Monday night. — Roman Stubbs

Ramblers 20 minutes from shot at national championship

Loyola Chicago looked as though it was struggling to shed the nerves of making its first Final Four appearance on Saturday night in San Antonio. It started just 2-for-10 against Michigan, watching shot after shot miss and Wolverine after Wolverine blow by to the rim at the other end. Michigan led by eight early and looked comfortable after a 9-0 run.

Yet even after arguably their worst first half performance of the postseason, the Ramblers lead 29-22 at halftime. How? Improved shooting (center Cameron Krutwig and guard Marques Townes each have eight points), a lift from reserve Aundre Jackson (eight points) off the bench and a sloppy offensive performance so far from Michigan, which has 11 points and 11 rebounds from forward Moe Wagner but is nonetheless shooting 9-for-31 (29 percent) from the field. Loyola Chicago also got a bit of luck, including on this off-balance jumper by Townes with the shot clock winding down – which led the guard to do a Michael Jordan-esque shrug.

Loyola also got this running floater at the buzzer from guard Donte Ingram right before halftime:

That led to plenty of shout-outs to Sister Jean, who is courtside in San Antonio, on Twitter:

Loyola has certainly been in this position before; aside from overcoming a seven-point lead early in the second half of its first-round win over Miami, the Ramblers also overcame an early nine point deficit in the second round against Tennessee and a 12-point deficit within the first seven minutes in the Sweet 16 against Nevada. — Roman Stubbs

* * *

Pregame reading:

SAN ANTONIO — In the back corner of the Michigan locker room Thursday, the 6-foot-6 Michigan guard Charles Matthews sat and heard a wavelet of questions about a leading topic of the 2018 Final Four. To the sport, it’s a subject gathering steam, that of transfers, their frequency and what should be their rights within the game.

To Matthews, it’s an ancient matter.

Repeatedly, he begged off discussing how in 2015-16, he played for Kentucky, playing 370 minutes in 36 games, averaging 1.7 points and 1.6 rebounds. It had been so long ago, he said. He wasn’t interested in the rehash.

Three of the 10 starters in the opening semifinal between Loyola Chicago and Michigan on Saturday could tell of a winding rehash if interested. They’re transfers, and they’re crucial to the matchup. Matthews, once ranked No. 11 by among recruits in 2015, and third among shooting guards, has played by far his fullest season and has led Michigan in scoring in this tournament.

His stat line for last season showed all zeros, much as the stat line did for Loyola Chicago guard Marques Townes and in 2015-16 for Loyola Chicago guard Clayton Custer. By the time Michigan had withstood Florida State in the West Region final in Los Angeles, Matthews had made his curvy trip from a potential one-and-done college player to Final Four-bound team scoring leader.

He had gone for 20, 11, 18 and 17 points in Michigan’s four NCAA tournament games, on strong shooting of 7 for 13, 5 for 12, 8 for 11 and 6 for 14, the last in a game when hardly anyone made a shot. “It was special,” Matthews said. “Last year all I used to hear in practice was, ‘Turnover, Matthews,’ ‘Turnover, Matthews.’ And, ‘Go see 212,’ that’s when I have to run up to the top of the bleachers. But I stayed with it. Coach stayed on me. He continued to believe in me, and that continued to help my confidence grow. My teammates believe in me, and I believe in them. So it’s just been a special feeling.”

For Custer, Loyola Chicago’s team leader, the trail went from Overland Park, Kan., to Iowa State, for a season with 12 game appearances, zero starts and 15 field goal attempts, three of them good. At Loyola Chicago, this Missouri Valley Conference player of the year joined high school teammate Ben Richardson, who helped lure him once he decided to depart Iowa State. For Townes, Custer’s fellow guard, it had gone from Edison, N.J., through Farleigh-Dickinson (N.J.), where Townes played two seasons and averaged 10 points after being on a high school team with Karl-Anthony Towns, now of the Minnesota Timberwolves, and Wade Baldwin, now of the Portland Trail Blazers.

“A lot of times young people, in recruiting, they want — whether it’s a transfer or a high school kid — they want to make a splash on signing day, or announcement day,” Loyola Chicago Coach Porter Moser said. “‘Hey, I’m going to this conference, this school,’ and they think that validates them being a player with all the peripheral people. We always sell, ‘Go to a place, go to Loyola and make a splash on game day. You could have 125, 130 splashes.’ ”

The biggest one has come.

* * *

Series history: The schools have played three times before, but not since 1969, when Loyola won, 112-100, at Chicago Stadium. Michigan won the two previous meetings.

Fast facts: Loyola’s 14-game winning streak is the longest of the Final Four teams … The Ramblers are making their first Final Four appearance since 1963 … This is the 100th season of Loyola men’s basketball … Through last weekend, Loyola ranked fifth in the country in scoring defense and second in fewest personal fouls per game … Five Loyola players are averaging double-digit points, something the Ramblers haven’t done since 1963 … Michigan is in the Final Four for the first time since 2013 … Michigan is 6-1 in national semifinal games, the best record of any school that’s played in at least five … Michigan Coach John Beilein would hit 800 career victories if his team wins the national title … Charles Matthews leads Michigan in both points (16.5 ppg) and rebounds (7.3) during the NCAA tournament.

They lost to Loyola Chicago when no one was watching. They’re inspired to see where it led.

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.

How Michigan got here:

John Beilein recruited Moritz Wagner to Michigan over a big German dinner and a beer

  • The Wolverines trailed No. 14 seed Montana 10-0 before surging ahead for a 61-47 win.
  • Their second-round game offered one of the tournament’s most dramatic endings, when freshman Jordan Poole bombed in a long three-pointer as time expired to clinch a 64-63 win over No. 6 seed Houston.
  • Michigan outlasted No. 9 seed Florida State, 58-54, to reach its eighth Final Four. Despite some recent offensive struggles, German forward Moritz Wagner is a big reason the Wolverines play on.

More college basketball:

Sister Jean holds a Final Four news conference and it’s ‘like Tom Brady at the Super Bowl’

Brewer: Bill Self is the same, unassuming coach. And yet he has embraced change.

U-Conn. women lose again on last-second OT shot in Final Four, this time to Notre Dame

Behind monster day from Teaira McCowan, Mississippi State is back in the NCAA final

For a hidden key to Final Four success, keep an eye on the shot clock

‘Just unbelievable’: The last time Loyola Chicago upended the college basketball world