Loyola-Chicago eliminates Pack from NCAA Tournament
ATLANTA — The Comeback Kids fell agonizingly short.
Nevada’s streak of miracle comebacks ended, as Marques Townes’ big 3-point field goal with 7 seconds left gave No. 11 Loyola-Chicago a 69-68 win Thursday night at Philips Arena in the South Region semifinals.
Loyola, which shot 75 percent in the second half, improved to 31-5 and kept its postseason Cinderella ride alive to Saturday’s Elite 8 game. Nevada ends the season with a 29-8 record.
“I thought we played like we have all year,” Nevada coach Eric Musselman said. “We played our hearts out, but we came up a basket or a point short, It’s obviously tough for our locker room right now that our season is over.
“You know we get a stop in the 3 that they hit at the (shot-clock buzzer) and maybe we’re sitting up here with a win.”
Musselman was referring to the big 3-pointer that Townes made just before time expired on the shot clock. The shot gave the Ramblers a 69-65 lead. Caleb Martin drained a 3-pointer with 3 seconds left to make it a one-point game, but Nevada never got the ball back.
“I’ll probably remember it for the rest of my life,” Townes said after the game. “I mean, it doesn’t really get any better than that. Clay (Custer) made a great play, got downhill, kicked out to me in the corner. The guy (Caleb Martin) came flying at me, I just gave him a little shot fake, and I shot it, and it went in. It was just — that’s something you dream about.”
It was great ball movement by Loyola that set up that play, and as Nevada has done so often, it helped a little too much on the drive by Custer.
“I just think that what we kept doing over the course of the game was over-helping,” Martin said. “We were trying to force Custer and them every time they drove to make tough twos, and I lost my man. 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. I think I recovered pretty well. I just got lost, and it was costly.”
“I mean, they’re a really, really good offensive team,” Musselman said. “There’s no doubt about it. I mean, they couldn’t miss.”
Townes’ shot wiped out another tremendous offensive performance in the second half. Nevada outscored Loyola, 44-41, which is amazing considering the Ramblers shot the ball so well.
“I mean, we still came back,” Musselman said. “You know, we were down at one point, I think by 12, and we lost by 1. So we came back. We had a good look in the corner from Hallice Cooke, who’s one of our best shooters. We hit that …”
Cooke misfired from the corner with the Pack trailing 64-63 with 48 seconds left. Nevada got to within one again, 66-65, with 36 seconds left on two free throws by Cody Martin, but couldn’t finish the job.
“It’s tough man, it’s tough,” said Nevada senior Kendall Stephens, who played his last game in a Nevada uniform and went 0-for-8 from the field. “To be this close, you know, it stinks a lot. We needed more stops.”
Indeed. Loyola hit its first 13 shots of the second half en route to shooting 75 percent for the half and 56 for the game.
“They just executed at the offensive end,” Cody Martin said. “Coming out of the second half (down 28-24) we just had a bad start and they executed really well and we just couldn’t get a stop.
“You look at the shot clock and there is 10 seconds left, and you think it’s over and you’re sleeping there for a second, so they get to the rim or they drive and kick out for an open shot. They would get into the lane and they knew they weren’t going to shoot, and they got the ball to open guys.”
One of the reasons for Loyola’s success is that they went small in the second half in an effort to push the tempo, a strategy that normally would play to Nevada’s strength.
“It paid off in terms of the temp that we created getting stops,” Loyola coach Parker Moser said. “Our defense created the offense for sure.”
It worked for a while, but Nevada stormed back with a 12-2 run, tying the game at 59 with 4:06 left. Cody Martin (16 points) had two baskets and two free throws in that stretch, and Caleb (21 points) and Jordan Caroline (19 points) each added a basket.
Unlike the first two regional games, Nevada bolted to a 20-8 lead in the first 6 1/2 minutes, using great ball movement and nine points from Caroline.
It was too good to be true, however, unlike in the first round against Texas (down 12) and the second round (down 22 to Cincinnati) when Nevada rallied for the win.
Loyola outscored the Pack 20-4 the rest of the half, sending Nevada to the locker room for the sixth straight game trailing at the half, 28-24.
From an offensive point of view, it was ugly. Nevada went 1 for its last 13, including 0-for-8. Nevada didn’t score for the final 7:55 of the half. Nevada started 7 of 8 and finished the half 2 for 19.
“I think we got complacent,” Cody Martin said. “The ball got stagnant, and we started taking unorthodox shots that we normally don’t take. We didn’t realize it until it was too late. They would get the rebound and control the tempo.”