Even before Donte Ingram broke Miami’s heart and sent the Hurricanes home from the NCAA Tournament with that game-winning three-point shot on Thursday, it seemed the script had already been written for Loyola-Chicago to pull off the thrilling 64-62 first-round upset.
Although Miami was the No. 6 seed, the Hurricanes found themselves as “underdogs” to the 11th-seeded Ramblers in the eyes of many fans and media bracketologists.
Loyola-Chicago had all the makings of the feel-good bracket-busting team — a mid-major with a 98-year-old nun as its team chaplain, a 1963 national championship team that broke racial barriers, a 28-5 record, and stats that would catch the attention of any opponent.
After the game, Sister Jean sat in a wheelchair on a corner of the court, beaming as player after player bent down to give her hugs. She prays with the team before every game, and their prayers were answered.
“We asked God to help us,” she said in a post-game interview. “I told God that we would do our part if he would do his part, and I hoped the referees would call the right kind of a game, that nobody would get injured, that we play with confidence and we know we’d win the game. And then at the end when the buzzer rang, we wanted to be sure the score said we had the big W.”
As the only team from the state of Illinois in the tournament, the Ramblers became the darling of the state, and the talk of Chicago. Their fans — decked in long maroon- and gold-striped scarves — outnumbered Hurricane fans by quite a bit and chanted “LUC! LUC!” throughout the game.
All of that love for the Ramblers made the loss sting even more for the Hurricanes. UM players and coaches stopped in their tracks, stunned, when Ingram’s shot swished in with less than a second remaining. Meanwhile, the Loyola bench emptied and players piled on each other and celebrated as if they had won the national title.
By the time the Canes reached their locker room, many were in tears.
UM sophomore forward Dewan Huell summed up his view of the crushing final shot: “The ball going through the net, and the buzzer going off. And then, tears. Heart was broken. … It just hurts. Everybody had us to lose this game, and we did lose the game, and I was like, ‘Damn, they were right.’ It’s a bad feeling.”
Huell, who blamed himself for a few critical defensive lapses, said the only other time he felt so sad after a game was when his Miami Norland high school team lost to Ft. Lauderdale Dillard in the closing minutes his senior year.
Freshman Chris Lykes said: “This is the most hurt I’ve ever been, to lose at the buzzer like that. I was on the left wing, guarding in the middle of two guys, kid made a deep shot and hit it, and my heart dropped. I don’t even want to think about it.”
UM took a 62-60 lead on a jumper by Ja’Quan Newton with 39 seconds remaining, and it looked like the Canes would survive. But freshman Lonnie Walker IV turned the ball over with 23 seconds to go and 14 seconds later missed a free throw that proved costly. Loyola’s Ben Richardson grabbed the rebound and passed up-court to Marques Townes, who found Ingram on top of the key.
“My free throw didn’t go as planned, it always goes in, and once he released the ball, it went into slow motion and the basketball gods went their way,” said Walker, his eyes brimming with tears. “They knocked down shots. I was on the left side of the corner, right on the dude who passed the ball to him. I watched him elevate and get the shot off. It’s a dagger, goes straight to your heart.”
Walker led UM with 12 points in what may have been his last game as a Hurricane, as he is expected to leave for the NBA. “I’m proud of myself and my teammates, we fought through a lot of adversity, and we’ll see where it goes from here.” Asked to elaborate, he said, “I’m not sure yet.”
“Well, it’s pretty simple to know why we call it March Madness,” said UM coach Jim Larrañaga. “Unbelievable. Great game. Both teams played very hard. One big play after another, but they made the last big play.”
The Ramblers showed early what all the fuss was about. Despite a height disadvantage, they dominated with a combination of suffocating defense, easy layups and timely three-point shots. Loyola’s freshman center Cameron Krutwig outmuscled the UM big men with his 6-9, 260-pound frame.
Huell, Ebuka Izundu and Sam Waardenburg all took turns trying to stop Krutwig, who led the Ramblers at halftime with eight points on 4-of-5 shooting.
On the other end of the court, Miami sputtered early, missed five of their first six three-point attempts, and had only three assists at the half (their goal is 16 per game). Despite the struggles, they went into intermission tied 28-28 on a floater at the buzzer by DJ Vasiljevic.
Miami made adjustments at halftime and attacked the rim with a vengeance, forcing Krutwig to defend more than he had in the first half. The result? Back-to-back dunks from Walker and Huell to fuel an 11-4 run. The Canes (22-10) took a seven-point lead and seemed to have the game under control.
But the Ramblers (29-5) never gave up. They advance to face Tennessee on Saturday.
“Even when we were down seven, there was no quit in these guys,” said Loyola coach Porter Moser. “The believe. They share the ball. We had 19 assists. We’re very blessed to have kids who are resilient.”