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Why Loyola Chicago’s 2018 NCAA tournament run was one of the best Cinderella stories in March Madness history

Loyola Chicago is back in the tournament this year, but let’s review some of the best moments from its 2018 NCAA tournament run.

Loyola Chicago v Kansas State Photo by Brett Wilhelm/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

For the third time since 2018, tournament darlings Loyola Chicago are going dancing! We’re celebrating by looking back at their Cinderella season in 2018:

The Ramblers stormed through the MVC with a conference record of 15-3, winning both the regular season and conference tournament. It was their first time qualifying for March Madness since 1985. Head coach Porter Moser was in his seventh season with the team, and it was their fifth in the Valley.

Loyola Chicago entered the bracket as an 11 seed in the South division of the bracket. Their first match was against the 6-seeded Miami Hurricanes.

Heading into the final minutes, the tight match was sitting at 61-62 in favor of the Hurricanes. It seemed to be wrapped up as Lonnie Walker IV went to the line for free throws for the Hurricanes. With 9 seconds on the clock, the ball rattled around the rim four, five, six times before ultimately bouncing out. Ben Richardson for the Ramblers scrambled up to snatch the ball out of the madness, hurling it across the court to Marques Townes. Unable to get a good look, he passed it off to Donte Ingram, who was standing at the top of the key on the edge of the March Madness logo.

With 0.9 seconds on the clock, Ingram launched a deep three.

Nothing but net.

The horn sounded as the scoreboard flashed a final score of 64-62 for the Ramblers. The bench emptied onto the court, and Townes stops celebrating just long enough to hug team chaplain Sister Jean - who was soon to become America’s favorite nun.

The next Goliath in the Ramblers’ road came in the form of the Tennessee Vols.

Despite starting the game several points behind, Loyola capitalized on nine missed shot attempts for the Vols to take a lead late in the first half. They held Tennessee off until the final minutes of the game. With 21 seconds on the clock, a made free throw by Grant Williams had put the Vols on top, 62-61.

Clayton Custer takes the ball down the court, drives just inside the three point line and releases a tidy mid-range jumper straight over the Tennessee defender. It bounced off the front of the rim, hit high off the backboard, and miraculously dropped through the hoop.

A last second three-point attempt by Tennessee bricked off the rim, and Loyola advanced to the Sweet Sixteen with a final score of 64-63. Loyola faithful found themselves erupting in glee for the second time in as many days as time expired.

In the Elite Eight, Clayton Custer and Marques Townes found themselves in the hot seat yet again for a late-game miracle shot as they faced down Nevada.

Loyola v Nevada Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

In the early minutes of the game, it seemed like Loyola’s Cinderella run was finally coming to an end. They were down by as much as 12, only for a run just before halftime to propel them ahead. The second half had the Ramblers continuing their momentum, only for Nevada to pull it back within one with less than a minute on the clock.

With 9.4 seconds on the clock, Custer kicked the ball out to Townes. Townes executed a tidy shot fake to ensure a clear shot, and shot a three that can only be described as textbook. Nothing but net, and the whole arena went wild as a win was all but assured for the Ramblers yet again. A final score of 69-65 sent them on to the Elite 8.

The media storm didn’t phase the Ramblers one bit as they routed the ninth-seeded K-State 78-62 to advance to the Final Four. It was their first trip to the Final Four since their national championship in 1963. It was also their last game in the tournament, finally falling against the Michigan Wolverines.

The Ramblers have kept the momentum rolling since their historic 2018 season, becoming an MVC powerhouse in the following seasons. They made a run to the Sweet Sixteen in 2021, notably upsetting 1-seeded Illinois and busting quite a few brackets in the process.

Fast forward to 2022.

Loyola made their last season in the Missouri Valley count, going out with a bang as the outright Arch Madness champions after tying for second place behind Northern Iowa in the regular season. They’re headed off to the A10, but they have one last March Madness ahead of them representing the MVC.

With all eyes turned back to the Ramblers, will they deliver another iconic performance in 2022? We’ll find out soon!