INDIANAPOLIS — Ethan Thompson scored 20 points, including a pair of clinching foul shots with 35 seconds left, and No. 12 seed Oregon State kept its dream March going with a 65-58 victory over eighth-seeded Loyola Chicago in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday.
Warith Alatishe added 10 points and 11 rebounds for the Beavers (20-12), who were picked to finish last in the Pac-12 but ran roughshod through the conference tournament and have kept on winning on college basketball’s biggest stage.
They’re headed for their first Elite Eight since 1982 — one that was later vacated by the NCAA — and will play second-seeded Houston or No. 10 seed Syracuse on Monday night for a spot in the Beavers’ first Final Four since 1963.
Not even the fervent prayers of Sister Jean could help Loyola (26-4) deal with the constantly changing defenses that Oregon State coach Wayne Tinkle rolled out. The Ramblers, who played with such poise and perfection in toppling top-seeded Illinois, wound up shooting 33% from the field and 5 of 23 from beyond the arc.
All-America forward Cameron Krutwig led Loyola with 14 points. Lucas Williamson and Braden Norris added 10 apiece, though both of them missed 3-pointers in the closing minutes as Loyola tried to mount a comeback.
It was the first meeting between the teams since Dec. 31, 1927, when Loyola won 31-19 in Chicago — and Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, the Ramblers’ beloved 101-year-old chaplain, was still a schoolgirl.
For most of Saturday, it looked as if 31 points would be plenty.
Oregon State turned it over twice before getting off a shot, went nearly 6 1/2 minutes before making its first field goal and at one point was 1 of 8 with four turnovers. Then the Ramblers, who failed to take advantage of their defense, proceeded to miss 11 consecutive shots as Oregon State flip-flopped between man-to-man and zone defenses.
The Beavers wound up shutting out Loyola the last 5:48 to take a 24-16 halftime lead, the lowest-scoring first half of the entire tournament. Krutwig was 3 of 5 from the field; the rest of the Ramblers were 1 of 18.
You’d have sworn the Beavers sported the nation’s No. 1 scoring defense, not the other way around.
Oregon State built on Warith Alatishe’s buzzer-beating bucket to end the first half by finally getting some shots to go in the second. Thompson did most of the damage, hitting an early jumper, beating the shot clock with another fadeaway jumper, then catching a Hail Mary heave to beat a full-court press and give the Beavers a 37-24 lead with 12 minutes to go.
Meanwhile, the Ramblers were hitting everything but the bottom of the bucket.
Williamson rimmed out 3-pointers on back-to-back trips down the floor. Tate Hall clanked a couple of free throws when that’s about the only place they were scoring. Krutwig even had a baby hook go halfway down and right back out.
Even when the shots wouldn’t fall, Loyola continued to play defense, and that kept the game close. And when Braden Norris knocked down a 3 and Aher Uguak tipped in an ally-oop with 2:43 to go, the Ramblers had trimmed their deficit to 49-44 and had the partisan crowd sitting mostly in the rafters of Bankers Life Fieldhouse cheering.
Kennedy hit a 3-pointer to get the Ramblers within 51-47, then another shot to get within 53-49, but the Beavers kept finding answers. Lucas provided one with a 3, Alatishe provided another from the foul line, and that was enough to keep the Pac-12’s dream tournament going into the Elite Eight.
Oregon State is making the most of its second NCAA Tournament appearance since 1990. The Beavers had beaten higher-seeded teams in Tennessee and Oklahoma State to reach the second weekend, then ramped up the defense against one of the nation’s best on that end of the court to keep their run going.
Loyola Chicago was trying to become the first No. 8 seed since Kentucky in 2014 to reach the Elite Eight. But its slow start from the field proved to be too much to overcome. The Ramblers’ last lead came with about six minutes left in the first half.
The Beavers play the Cougars or the Orange for a spot in the Final Four. Oregon State has never played Syracuse, but it beat Houston in the 1966 West Region semifinal and again in the 2009 CBI Tournament.