Sports

The night Cinderella dominated its way to the Final Four

ATLANTA — Loyola wouldn’t need any last-minute theatrics to make history this time around. No buzzer-beaters. No Sister Jean magic. Nothing but good basketball.

If you didn’t take this year’s Cinderella seriously before, you better now.

The team from the shores of Lake Michigan, the forgotten squad from the Missouri Valley Conference, the 11-seed almost everyone believed would be a one-and-done in the NCAA tournament, punched its ticket to the Final Four thanks to a a complete dismantling of Kansas State in Atlanta.

“Yo!” Lucas Williamson shouted during the postgame celebration. “We dominated!”

The freshman guard from Chicago wasn’t wrong. The final score — Loyola 78, Kansas State 62 — didn’t tell the half of it.

This wasn’t some jittery mid-major that looked scared of the big moment. If anything, Loyola players embraced what hung in the balance on Saturday night: the school’s first trip to the Final Four in more than 50 years. They were loose, locked in and completely unafraid.

The night Cinderella dominated its way to the Final Fourplay

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No. 11 seed Loyola-Chicago’s Cinderella run continues with a 78-62 win against No. 9 seed Kansas State. The Ramblers advance to the Final Four for the first time since 1963.

You could see it in the dimes Cameron Krutwig dropped from the high post, the way Donte Ingram crashed the boards and how Ben Richardson was unconscious shooting from beyond the arc.

Richardson, the Missouri Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year, flipped the script after scoring a combined 14 points in his first three games of the NCAA tournament. Against Kansas State, he poured in a career-high 23. After sinking an early 3 to put Loyola ahead by double digits in the first half, the typically unassuming Richardson pumped his fist wildly and wagged his tongue at the crowd as he ran back on defense.

He was feeling it. In fact, everyone in maroon and gold was.

“Twenty-three in a f—ing game, bro?” junior guard Clayton Custer said to Richardson.

“I told you it was your time!” Ingram chimed in.

Ingram, a senior from Chicago, clutched the South Region trophy in his arms as his teammates cut down the nets inside Philips Arena. He had a knowing grin on his face. He told reporters how no one thought they could beat Miami, how no one thought they could beat Tennessee or Nevada or Kansas State.

“We don’t care about any of that,” he said.

In fact, he added, “We had zero doubt. We worked hard for this.”

He was right. This wasn’t about luck. This wasn’t the magic of team chaplain and national phenom Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt. This wasn’t anything but a veteran-laden team playing picture-perfect basketball. Good spacing. Crisp passing. Feverish defense.

When Loyola coach Porter Moser took the stage at center court, he gazed into the stands and told everyone to look closely.

“Look at this,” he said. “Look at this! Are you kidding me? This is how it’s supposed to be.”

The night Cinderella dominated its way to the Final Fourplay

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Loyola-Chicago head coach Porter Moser credits his team for staying focused and believing in themselves following the win over Kansas State.

History will say Loyola is just the fifth double-digit seed to ever reach the Final Four and the fourth 11-seed to make the tournament’s final weekend — but that’s selling this team short. Loyola might have won its first three games of the tournament by a combined four points, but this one was a beatdown.

If Loyola can continue to shoot, pass and defend like it did on Saturday, don’t assume that the Ramblers’ run in San Antonio will be brief. Don’t think for a second that their next opponent — Michigan — isn’t going to get all it can handle.

Custer wasn’t bashful when he told a group of reporters, “We know we’re good. We won, what, 30 games?”

It’s actually up to 32 now, but who’s counting?

Who knows how many more wins this team has in it?

In the locker room as the celebration was winding down, Krutwig said he was happy the Kansas State game came easier than the previous ones in the tournament. His heart was pounding a little less, he explained.

“We’re finally here,” he said. “We finally did it!”

Krutwig paused for a moment, straddling the line between present and future.

“We got more to go,” he said. “We got two more left.”

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