It’s been 55 years since the Loyola Chicago Ramblers men’s basketball program has mattered in the sports universe, so with all due respect to the city of Chicago, it’s well past time that we all make room for them as they have punched the first of four tickets to the Final Four with a convincing 78-62 victory over Kansas State on Saturday night at Philips Arena.
Asked what he sees out there on the floor immediately after the game, Loyola head coach Porter Moser said, “God is good is what I see. God has blessed me and he has blessed this university. This group of guys is an unbelievable group and the journey with them has been unbelievable. To see these guys experience that is an amazing experience is an amazing feeling as a coach.”
Loyola University made their first shot of the game, an old school up-and-under move by freshman big man Cameron Kurtwig, and was off to the races from there.
The Ramblers also made their first shot of the second half. If there was a time to be the picture of consistency it was with a ticket to the Final Four in San Antonio at stake and Loyola was not taking any chances.
They stuck with what works and now they are headed to the Final Four to play the winner of tonight’s game between Florida State and Michigan.
A three-pointer by senior guard Ben Richardson out the Ramblers ahead 15-5 and another post move by Kurtwig kept the lead at double-digits, 32-22, late in the first half. One more three-pointer by Richardson with less than 10 seconds remaining put the Ramblers up 36-24 at halftime.
Richardson would save his best game of the season for the most important time (to date) by scoring a season-high 23 points on 7-10 shooting (6-7 from three-point range) to go along with six rebounds and four assists.
“We have so many unselfish guys and we have so many weapons on this team,” said Richardson after the game. “I was in a rhythm and they kept finding me. Biggest game of my life.”
Loyola never got away from what got them to this point: disciplined ball movement and a scoring balance that on one night had junior Marques Townes score a team-high and hit what amounted to a game-winning shot and the next night only need him to score four first-half points (13 for the game). Richardson scored 11 points on 4-6 shooting while Kurtwig added seven points and grabbed five rebounds during the first half.
One of Thursday night’s heroes, Aundre Jackson added four points off the bench during the first half while freshman Lucas Williamson, a Chicago native and the future of a program clearly on the rise, scored five points. Kansas State head coach Bruce Webber and his staff didn’t have an idea who to key in on as Loyola was the epitome of a team on Saturday, and during this entire tournament.
Wildcats sophomore Xavier Sneed scored a team-high 16 points and grabbed six rebounds while junior Barry Brown, Jr. added 14 points, three rebounds and three assists. Webber’s team is returning all five of his starters and the majority of his bench from tonight’s game.
This does not include starting center Dean Wade who was leading the team in scoring and rebounding before he got hurt earlier this season. The future is bright for Kansas State basketball, as bright as it has ever been in some respects, but it belongs to Loyola Chicago at the moment.
“I’m disappointed for Kansas State and our players,” said Webber after the game. “I thought we came out on our heels. We have a lot to be proud of.”
Brown Jr. said, “It sucks right now but looking back on the expectations for this team we are going to take it all in and look back on our accomplishments.”
The Ramblers would quickly pull away early in the second half after a three-pointer by senior Dinte Ingram, Richardson and junior Clayton Custer put Loyola ahead by 17 points, their largest lead of the game to that point.
Another basket by Ingram on the next trip down court forced Webber to call timeout but the momentum was already too far in Loyola’s favor. The ticket to the Final Four had already been punched and it was maroon and gold and read Loyola Chicago on it.
“I know these guys will work hard and we will be able to get back here,” said Sneed.
The Ramblers shot 57.4 percent from the field and 50 percent (9-18) from three. Despite being forced into 15 turnovers by the Wildcats they managed to almost double Kansas State in assists with 17 on 27 made field goals. “We took really good care of the ball today,” said Townes.
“Our defense is the key for us,” said Custer. “The first thing we talk about any team is how we’re going to stop them.”
Next stop: San Antonio, Texas