It was the best of times and it was the worst of times. Momentum swings, big shots and a free-flowing tempo made this mid-major clash an NCAA Tournament classic. Loyola’s exceptional team basketball and calmness under pressure earned the Ramblers an emotional 69-68 win in Atlanta.
The game was a battle of each team’s narrative arc of the Tournament so far. Loyola moved the ball with meticulous efficiency. Nevada came back from a huge second half deficit in a blink of an eye. The game went down to the wire, but Loyola received yet another clutch shot, this time a three from Marques Townes (18 points, 4 boards, 5 assists). Sister Jean’s peons will now face the winner of the Kentucky/Kansas State game in the Elite Eight.
Nevada will rue some of its missed chances in this one. When the Wolf Pack opened a 12-point lead after seven minutes in Nevada’s first Sweet 16 appearance since 2004, it felt like Nevada would finally be the team that ended Loyola’s unlikely run. Instead, Loyola unleashed a masterful display of passing and cutting that put Nevada on the defensive. The Wolf Pack were up 20-8 in the opening seven minutes. They only scored four points for the remainder of the half. Loyola’s offense kicked into gear and the Ramblers went on an extended 20-4 run to close out the first half with a 28-24 lead.
Nevada’s possessions after taking a 20-8 lead: Turnover, miss, miss, miss, miss, layup, miss, turnover, miss, miss, miss, dunk, miss, miss, miss, turnover, miss, turnover, miss, turnover, turnover, miss, turnover, miss— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) March 23, 2018
Well, basketball is a game of runs.
With Loyola’s Marques Townes and Clayton Custer finding plenty of space in the lane to pick apart Nevada, Eric Musselman was left searching for answers into the second half. Loyola opened up a 12-point lead, but Nevada finally found its shot by hitting threes on back-to-back possessions to keep the game in single digits.
But Loyola kept getting whatever it wanted in the paint. Loyola made its first 13 field goals of the second half, completely shredding Nevada’s lineup. It wasn’t even difficult. Loyola just got open layup after open layup. But Nevada, once again, wasn’t done yet. An 8-0 run cut Loyola’s lead to just two with 5 minutes left. A minute later, Cody Martin hit a layup to tie it at 59-59. Just as it had against Cincinnati and Texas, Nevada had erased another deficit.
Unfortunately for Nevada, Loyola’s deal with the Fates wasn’t changing. Loyola first got a huge three from Aundre Jackson that made it 62-59. It was a lead that Loyola would hold for the rest of the game. Nevada was able to cut it back down to 66-65, but opted not to foul to extend the game down one with less than 40 to go. However, a brilliant set play from Loyola gave Marques Townes an open three. Townes buried the shot and iced it for the Ramblers with 6.2 seconds left, because of course he did.
Except, because it’s Nevada, it wasn’t actually over. Caleb Martin hit a ridiculous three to make it a one-point game and Clayton Custer got away with a travel on the inbounds play before Loyola finally did seal the deal.
It’s fair to say Loyola was the better team tonight. Nevada didn’t play good enough defense to stay afloat, and another furious comeback from the Martin Twins and Jordan Caroline couldn’t save them. For Loyola Chicago, this is completely insane. This is the deepest run for the Ramblers since Loyola won the national title in 1963. But as a prominent mid-major blog, you have to give some credit to Nevada as well, which really proved that its worth as a top-25 team in the NCAA Tournament. Nevada could really be the next mid-major powerhouse to look out for in the years to come.
But that won’t matter tonight because LOYOLA IS IN THE DAMN ELITE EIGHT!!!