Loyola-Chicago Beats Nevada in NCAA Tourmanent to Advance to Elite 8

ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 22: Clayton Custer #13 of the Loyola Ramblers is defended by Cody Martin #11 of the Nevada Wolf Pack in the second half during the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at Philips Arena on March 22, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt and the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers are still dancing.

The Missouri Valley Conference representative outlasted the Nevada Wolf Pack 69-68 on Thursday in Atlanta in a thrilling Sweet 16 showdown to clinch a spot in the Elite Eight as this year’s Cinderella.

Marques Townes played the role of hero when he drilled a three-pointer with six seconds remaining and his team clinging to a precarious one-point lead after letting a 12-point advantage melt away. Caleb Martin answered with a three-pointer, but the Wolf Pack ran out of time with fouls to give in the final second. 

The stretch capped off a dramatic final three minutes that saw Aundre Jackson give the Ramblers a four-point lead after a three-pointer and layup before Martin hit a three and multiple free throws to set up the closing sequence.

This was far from a traditional Sweet 16 heavyweight battle, considering Loyola-Chicago is the No. 11 seed in the South Regional and Nevada is the No. 7 seed. The two upstarts were fighting for a long-awaited spot in the next round. The Ramblers’ last Elite Eight game came when they won the national title in 1963, while the Wolf Pack have never been in program history.

Loyola-Chicago got here by beating Miami with a game-winning shot from Donte Ingram and topping Tennessee with a game-winning shot from Clayton Custer, while Nevada outlasted Texas in overtime and overcame a 22-point deficit to surpass Cincinnati.

There were plenty of dramatics once again, and a balanced offense that had five players average more than 10 points per game and nobody average more than 13.3 during the season used a three-man attack to prevail.

Townes finished with 18 points, while Custer and Jackson each added 15.

That allowed the Ramblers to use their strong defense to contain the four-man attack of Mountain West Player of the Year Caleb Martin, Jordan Caroline, Cody Martin and Kendall Stephens.

According to Ken Pomeroy’s pace-adjusted metrics, Loyola-Chicago boasts the 27th-best defense in the country and checks in at 319th in tempo, while Nevada has the sixth-best offense.

Whether Nevada could play at a faster pace before the Ramblers set up their stifling half-court defense that led to scores in the 60s in their first two NCAA tournament games figured to determine the result, and the Wolf Pack had little trouble pushing the tempo in the early going on the way to a 20-8 lead in the first seven minutes.

However, the Ramblers dialed up the defensive intensity and didn’t allow a point in the final seven minutes of the half. That let their offense chip away with Custer and Townes slicing their way to the rim.

Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports pointed to Nevada’s shot selection as Loyola-Chicago came storming back for a 28-24 halftime lead:

For as great as the Ramblers defense was in the first half, their offense shined in the second half. Their spacing opened up driving lanes for easy looks at the rim, and they hit their first 13 shots after intermission and built a 12-point advantage.

However, they were unable to pull away during the red-hot shooting stretch thanks largely to 16 turnovers, and Nevada took advantage of the comeback opening like it has all tournament.

Caleb Martin went into takeover mode for stretches and finished with 21 points, five rebounds, three blocks and five made three-pointers, while Caroline added 19 points and Cody Martin finished with 16 points, five assists, six boards and four steals.

Even with all three putting up impressive totals, the cold stretch at the end of the first half and Loyola-Chicago’s offensive display to start the second half and finish the game proved to be the difference.

Loyola-Chicago will turn its attention to an Elite Eight date on Saturday with the winner of the battle between Kansas State and Kentucky.

While the Ramblers won’t have to worry about the No. 1-seeded Virginia Cavaliers after they were shocked by the 16th-seeded UMBC Retrievers, Kentucky is a national powerhouse and is playing its best basketball in March after winning the SEC tournament.

It will have to deal with the Sister Jean-backed Ramblers in the next round if it beats Kansas State.