ATLANTA — Loyola’s advantage had vanished.
After leading Nevada by 12 points earlier in the second half, Cody Martin’s free throws with 36 seconds left had brought the Wolf Pack to within a single point with 36 seconds to play.
Clayton Custer was calm. The Loyola guard walked the ball up the court, then cradled it at the top of the key, waiting for a play to develop. With the shot clock winding down, he got a screen from teammate Aundre Jackson.
Custer switched the ball from his left hand to his right, and cut down the lane. Suddenly, both Caleb and Cody Martin had closed in on him. Out of the corner of his eye, Custer saw an open teammate. It was Marques Townes.
The catch-pump-jab-dribble-and-shoot from the corner is down to a science for Townes, a junior guard from New Jersey. He used the sequence of moves earlier in this same game in Atlanta’s Phillips Arena, when he nailed a shot to cap off a 20-4 Loyola run to end the first half.
So here he was again, with the ball in his grasp on the biggest stage. After Custer dished the ball out, Caleb Martin realized his mistake. He had left Townes for a short moment, and that was just enough.
Townes caught the pass, took a dribble and slid to his left. He released the ball as Martin leapt at him.
Swish. Loyola had a four-point lead in the Sweet 16.
There were 6.2 seconds left, enough time for Caleb Martin to make a three-pointer of his own, but not enough time for Nevada to foul twice to force Loyola free throws.
For the first time since 1963, Loyola is in the Elite Eight.
Here’s a short oral history of how Townes’ game-clinching shot went down, according to the people who were involved...
BRYAN MULLINS, Loyola Assistant Coach: “Coach [Porter Moser] just called for a high ball screen. We put it in [Clayton Custer’s] hands.”
DONTE INGRAM, Loyola: “We were running a play that, initially, it broke down. Nevada played it pretty well. So, at point, we just like to space the floor, try to get a dribble-drive.”
AUNDRE JACKSON, Loyola: “We practice situationals all the time. We practice being up late. We practice being down, tied scores… So we knew how to work it out, and that’s what we did.”
CODY MARTIN, Nevada: “They just ended up getting what they needed at the right time. We didn’t focus the whole 30 seconds when we really needed it the most.”
DONTE INGRAM: “Nevada played pretty good defense that possession.”
BRYAN MULLINS: “Clay was able to refuse [the defense], get downhill. I don’t know who was guarding Marques, but someone collapsed and Clay found Marques.”
DONTE INGRAM: “Obviously, somebody broke, we threw it to Marques and he hit a great shot. We’re just looking to be a threat on that play. Ready to shoot, ready to drive.”
CALEB MARTIN, Nevada: “I lost Townes late in the game for the kick-out right there because I was expecting him to backdoor cut that time like he did, I think, the possession or two before, and that time he spaced out more towards the wing that time.”
MARQUES TOWNES, Loyola: “Clay made a great play, got downhill, kicked it to me in the corner. The guy came flying at me, I just gave him a little shot fake, and I shot it, and it went in.”
BRYAN MULLINS: “Clay was making good plays, but it was a big time shot by Marques, obviously.”
DONTE INGRAM: “Marques got his man in the air, hit him with a little jab step, and when the shot went up – obviously we have full confidence in each other, all of us. We know it could’ve been anybody to hit that shot.”
BEN RICHARDSON, Loyola: “It takes a whole team. This whole tournament – it’s not going to be the same guys night after night. Marques really stepped up and hit the shot at the end.”
DONTE INGRAM: “When it went up, I wanted to crash the glass, but at the same time, I had confidence that it was going in.”
CALEB MARTIN: “I think I recovered pretty well. I just should have denied the catch.”
MARQUES TOWNES: “That’s something you dream about. You’re in the Sweet 16 and you hit a big shot like that. It’s just amazing. I’m just blessed to be in that position.”
CALEB MARTIN: “A theme that we kept doing over the course of the game was over-helping. We were trying to force Custer and them every time they drove to make tough two’s, and I lost my man.”
ERIC MUSSELMAN, Nevada Head Coach: “You know, we get a stop on that three-ball that they hit at the buzzer and maybe we’re sitting up here with a win. But again, we didn’t, and so we’ve got to tip our hat off to Loyola for sure.”
CALEB MARTIN: “Yeah, it’s one of those things, I just got lost, and it was costly.”
MARQUES TOWNES: “I’ll probably remember it for the rest of my life.”
CINDERELLA DANCES ON!!!— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 23, 2018
Loyola Chicago is headed to the #Elite8#MarchMadness pic.twitter.com/8r74B8yWgH