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NCAA Tournament Final Four: Loyola of Chicago’s run ends against Michigan

The Ramblers came this far, but couldn’t quite pull it out in the end.

NCAA Basketball: Final Four-Loyola vs Michigan Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

It’ll go down as one of the most memorable Final Four runs in college basketball history. Sister Jean, Porter Moser’s jacket, and the Loyola of Chicago Ramblers captured the hearts of fans across the country, but it won’t go any further. After leading for much of the game, the Ramblers fell to the 3 seed Michigan Wolverines, 69-57.

It was Michigan who threw the first punch as missed layups and offensive rebounding hurt the Ramblers early on. The Wolverine defense was as good as advertised in the opening moments, holding Loyola to just 2-10 shooting from the floor as Michigan raced out to a 12-6 lead by the under-12 timeout. Sister Jean was not pleased.

The field goal drought lasted nearly eight minutes for Loyola layup by Aundre Jackson broke the streak. Porter Moser went to Jackson early in favor of freshman center Cameron Krutwig in an attempt to counteract Moe Wagner’s floor-spacing ability. Wagner had his way early on, scoring seven points and pulling down five rebounds to start. He would go on to put up a double-double in the first half with 11 points and 11 rebounds.

What’s the best way to generate offense when shots aren’t falling? Get to the free throw line, and that’s exactly what the Ramblers started to do. Back-to-back trips to the stripe got Loyola to within one possession, and a post bucket by Krutwig increased the Rambler run to 11-3 to tie the game up at 15. Shortly after, free throws by Krutwig gave them their first lead of the game.

Michigan’s defense garnered a lot of praise leading up to the game, which was deserved. But Loyola’s was just as good, if not better, in the first half. Their rotations and recoveries were seemingly connected on a string, and anyone not named Wagner couldn’t buy a bucket.

Loyola took a 29-22 lead into the locker room following a putback by Donte Ingram just before the buzzer.

In the first half, the Ramblers held Michigan to just 9-31 from the floor and just 2-13 from behind the arc, resulting in just .667 points per possession for the Wolverines. Marques Townes, Jackson and Krutwig each had eight points for the Ramblers to help build the lead. Coming into the game, Loyola had a pretty good track record when leading at the break.

Out of the break, Loyola had an answer for every Michigan basket, and even extended the lead to double digits at 41-31. The Ramblers continued to frustrate the Wolverine offense by switching everything, forcing Michigan out of their actions and into 1-on-1 situations.

Michigan chipped away at the lead though, and offensive rebounds again came back to haunt Loyola. A three by Duncan Robinson after an offensive rebound cut the lead to 45-42 just before the 10-minute mark. After a brutal offensive showing from both sides in the first half, the offenses had come alive.

Three minutes later, a three by Wagner tied the game at 47 with seven minutes to play. Michigan took the lead on the ensuing possession, which was their first lead in nearly 20 minutes. The Loyola offense was sputtering, giving the ball away on four consecutive possessions with careless turnovers.

The fifth Loyola turnover was followed by an and-1 bucket by Wagner on the other end, giving Michigan a 54-47 lead with five minutes to play. The Ramblers had their work cut out.

They didn’t have Moe Wagner, though, and that would end up being the difference. The Michigan center knocked in a three to go up 59-51, and Loyola turned it over on the next possession. Muhammed-Ali Abdur-Rahkman hit a layup to go up 10, and the clock struck midnight on Loyola’s Cinderella run. Sister Jean had seen enough.

Turnovers wound up being the nail in the coffin for Loyola. The Ramblers turned it over 16 times, including 10 times in the second half. Combine that with Wagner’s monster 24 point, 15 rebound outing and Loyola just couldn’t hang down the stretch.

The Ramblers finished the season with a 32-6 record and newfound fame for a program on the rise. Porter Moser returns a solid core of this team next year, including Clayton Custer, Townes and Krutwig. Although their season has come to an end, it won’t be the last we hear of the Ramblers.

It was a hell of a run, and it was fun to be along for the ride.