ATLANTA (AP) — The graying reminders of Loyola-Chicago’s basketball history are hanging on the Ramblers’ captivating run through the NCAA Tournament.
Sitting in front-row seats, four members of that 1963 Loyola championship team were glued to every play Thursday night, trying to will their alma mater to victory.
“We need a stop,” Jerry Harkness, the captain of that ’63 team, said in the waning minutes. “We just need a stop.”
They got it.
And then Marques Townes sank a decisive 3-pointer with only 6.3 seconds remaining to help clinch the Ramblers’ 69-68 win over Nevada in the NCAA South Regional semifinal on Thursday night.
“The whole nation must be sort of sitting on the edge of their chairs tonight,” said Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, Loyola’s 98-year-old team chaplain.
Sister Jean has become a celebrity during the tournament.
This whole team has.
And the Ramblers came through again Thursday night on the shoulders of their latest hero. Townes launched his 3-pointer from in front of the Loyola bench with the shot clock about to expire.
“He was a warrior,” said Loyola coach Porter Moser.
Townes, who had 18 points, charged down the court, pumping his fist, following the shot.
“I’ll probably remember it for the rest of my life,” Townes said. “I mean, it doesn’t really get any better than that.”
Loyola, the No. 11 seed, will face Kansas State, the No. 9 seed, in Saturday’s regional final. It will be the first-ever 9 vs 11 matchup in the Elite Eight, a fitting end to region that became the first to have the top four seeds eliminated on the opening weekend.
Loyola (31-5) has won three tournament games by a combined four points.
Not bad for a program that hadn’t been in the Sweet 16 in 33 years.
Harkness cheered with teammates Les Hunter, John Egan and Rich Rochelle as Loyola moved closer to the Final Four.
The 1963 team beat top-ranked Cincinnati in the championship game, but the team is better remembered for the “Game of Change” against Mississippi State earlier in the tournament. Loyola regularly started three or more black players, and Mississippi State played the game despite orders from Mississippi’s segregationist governor to boycott it.
Nevada called a timeout after Townes’ shot gave the Ramblers a 69-65 lead. Nevada’s Caleb Martin answered with a 3, but this time the Wolf Pack couldn’t extend their string of second-half comebacks in the tournament.
“Got to give so much credit to Nevada, they never quit,” Moser said. “Those guys keep coming at you, coming at you. … I was blessed we made a couple of plays at the end, got a couple of stops.”
On a team that shares the spotlight, this was Townes’ moment. He made each of his two 3s and led Loyola with five assists. He said he was fine after banging knees with Nevada’s Jordan Caroline at the end of the game.
“I think Marques Townes is the best player on the court tonight,” said Loyola guard Clayton Custer. “I don’t even think it was close, either. … This is unbelievable. Feels like a dream.”
Martin led Nevada (29-8) with 21 points. Twin brother Cody Martin had 16. Jordan Carolina added 19.
“We get a stop on the 3 they shot at the buzzer and maybe we’re sitting up here with a win,” said Nevada coach Eric Musselman.
Caleb Martin bemoaned his missed defensive opportunity before Townes’ big 3.
“I should have denied the catch,” Martin said of Loyola’s pass to Townes. “I just got lost and it was costly.”
For Sister Jean and the gray-haired guys in the front row, the remarkable ride continues for at least one more game.
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