Loyola dominates K-State for Final Four berth
ATLANTA — The glass slipper fits, and Cinderella is still the belle of the NCAA Tournament.
Loyola of Chicago will return to the Final Four for the first since its 1963 national championship after rolling past Kansas State, 78-62, Saturday night before a crowd of 15,477 at Philips Arena in the South Regional final.
The 11th-seeded Ramblers improved to 32-5, and will play the Michigan on Saturday in San Antonio
“We are just so blessed with the journey,” Loyola coach Porter Moser said. “This group of guys is resilient. They believe. They have taken one game at a time and believed.”
It’s probably time the nation should believe in the Ramblers. They are the real deal, and this was a typical performance. Great ball movement, great shooting (57 percent) and a stellar defensive performance.
Loyola was dominating, leading for 38-minutes and 59-seconds of the 40-minute game.
The Wildcats, who finished 25-12, led 3-2 and 5-4, and that was it. The Ramblers immediately went on a 14-2 run thanks to two 3-pointers and a layup by Ben Richardson, who finished with a season-best 23 points thanks to 6-for-7 performance from beyond the 3-point arc.
“They jumped out to that big lead in the beginning,” K-State’s Xavier Sneed said. “It was hard for us to come back from that, and they just kept their foot on the gas.”
Richardson, who was named the Most Outstanding Player, entered the game with a 6.4 average. He hadn’t scored in double figures since Feb. 24 when he scored 12 in a win over Illinois State.
“I’ve got to credit my teammates for finding me,” Richardson said. “That is what’s so special about our team. We’ve got so many unselfish guys. And we have so many weapons. And, like we’ve been saying it can be anybody’s night.
“I was in a rhythm, and they were finding me, so I kept taking. They went down and it was a big-time game, the biggest game of my life.”
The Wildcats did put together an 8-2 run late in the first half to close to 27-22 with 5:55 left, but the Ramblers responded with a 9-2 surge for a 36-24 advantage at the half. Lucas Williamson (8 points) and Cameron Krutwig (9 points) had three-point plays, and Richardson knocked down a 3-pointer in that span.
Bruce Weber, K-State’s veteran head coach, talked more about Loyola’s defense than anything else afterward.
“They are a good defensive team, and their numbers back that up,” Weber said. “We’ve been pretty good defensively. Obviously they made shots. You go 6 for 7 from Richardson and 9 for 18 from 3. It’s a difference maker.
“Some of the stuff they do defensively, icing the ball screens, switching everything. They are physical. We never could get into any rhythm.”
That was evident. Kansas State shot 35 percent from the floor, including 23 percent from 3. The Wildcats were going to have to win the game with their defense, and they couldn’t contain the Ramblers.
When you hear about Loyola, defense is not the first thing that is mentioned. It’s the Ramblers’ offense, the spacing in particular, their patience and unselfishness.
“The first thing we talk about when we talk about another team is how we’re going to stop them,” Clayton Custer said. “Coach makes sure we’re locked in on the defensive end. People talk about our spacing and the way we move the ball which I think is expected because we do a good job, but I think our defense is definitely the key to us winning these games.”
“Our defense dictates everything we do,” Moser said. “We came out really noisy on defense. You could just see the energy of creating some offense with our defense.”
The Ramblers kept the pressure on in the second half, shooting 60 percent from the floor, including 56 percent from 3.
A 15-5 run in the second half gave Loyola its biggest lead of 23 points, 61-38, with 9:40 left. Richardson had five in the surge and Custer had a 3-pointer.
NOTES: Besides Richardson, Custer and Donte Ingram were named to the all-regional team along with KSU’s Sneed and Barry Brown … Marques Townes finished with 13 and Ingram had 12 … Sneed had 16 points.