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Ramblers stun third-seeded Tennessee 63-62 to advance to Sweet 16

DALLAS — Loyola did it again.

The Ramblers, a scrappy, undersized Missouri Valley team, stunned third-seeded Tennessee 63-62 Saturday, earning the Ramblers their first Sweet Sixteen berth since 1985. Loyola will play either Nevada or Cincinnati on Thursday in Atlanta.

Coming out of a timeout, Clayton Custer hit a jumper, which bounced straight up off the rim before falling through, giving Loyola a one-point lead.

But unlike Donte Ingram’s last-second shot to beat Miami on Thursday, Custer’s basket left 3.6 seconds on the clock, giving Tennessee time to respond.

Members of the Loyola Ramblers bench celebrate in the second half against the Tennessee Volunteers during the second round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament at the American Airlines Center on March 17, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. | Tom Pennington/Getty Images

But Tennessee’s Hail Mary of a shot rimmed out.

The entire bench swarmed the court in near disbelief. Loyola somehow managed to pull off its second consecutive upset against a ranked opponent.

The Ramblers, who led by as many as 10 points in the second half, fell apart in the last two minutes.

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Tennessee went on a 14-2 run, which was capped by Grant Williams’ jumper, which drew a foul. He made the free throw and with 10.5 seconds remaining, Tennessee led 62-61.

“You can’t lose hope until the last buzzer rings,” Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt said.

And Loyola didn’t. Coach Porter Moser called a timeout to settle his team and plan the play. Custer’s clutch shot saved the day and wrote another happy ending in the Loyola Cinderella story.

“We’ve come back from deficits,” Moser said. “We’ve lost leads and found ways to win games. You know, [this team] just kept believing, and then — this group has been ultra-resilient.”

After the game, freshman Cameron Krutwig had only one explanation for Loyola’s thrilling wins.

“Sister Jean has that special connection up there for us,” Krutwig said.

The Ramblers knew their game against a talented and physical SEC team was going to be a “dogfight,” especially since size was not in their favor.

But Loyola definitely caught a break. Volunteers center Kyle Alexander was sidelined with a bruised hip and big-man Admiral Schofield, who singlehandedly dominated Loyola in the first four minutes scoring 11 of his 14 points, ran into foul trouble early.

Loyola proved once again that its ability to play as a unit makes it a deadly team to defend. The Ramblers did a good job spreading the floor, which made Tennessee struggle to key on Aundre Jackson, who led the team with a game-high 16 points, and Custer, who scored 10 points. As a team, Loyola shot 50 percent from the field and 40 percent beyond the arc compared to Tennessee, which shot 45.5 percent and 36 percent.

“Some nights people get more shots than other nights,” Custer said. “We don’t care how many shots we are going to get on any given night. The ball is going to find you if you’re open, and we trust — we have so many weapons that we trust that people are going to make plays.”

Tennessee ran the tempo out of the gates at the beginning of the game, leading 15-6 at one point. But Loyola dominated the last 15:37 of the first half, outscoring the Volunteers 23-10.

Loyola, who was 20-0 when leading at the half this season entering Saturday’s game, led 29-25 heading into the locker room after the first 20 minutes — a deadly position for the Volunteers, who were 3-4 this season when trailing at the half.

Loyola now has won four of its last five games against SEC opponents. And the Ramblers have won back-to-back games against ranked opponents for the first time since September of 1984.

With the loss to Loyola, Tennessee dropped to 0-4 against Missouri Valley opponents in the NCAA Tournament.

With another win in the bank, Moser and his crew look forward to their next game in Atlanta.

 

Follow me on Twitter: @madkenney