COLLEGE BASKETBALL NEWS

K-State, Loyola-Chicago defy odds, eye Final Four

Ken Cross

March 23, 2018 at 3:42 pm.

Mar 22, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Kansas State Wildcats guard Barry Brown (5) drives to the basket against Kentucky Wildcats forward Wenyen Gabriel (32) and forward Sacha Killeya-Jones (1) during the first half in the semifinals of the South regional of the 2018 NCAA Tournament at Philips Arena. Photo Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Mar 22, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Kansas State Wildcats guard Barry Brown (5) drives to the basket against Kentucky Wildcats forward Wenyen Gabriel (32) and forward Sacha Killeya-Jones (1) during the first half in the semifinals of the South regional of the 2018 NCAA Tournament at Philips Arena. Photo Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest mysteries of the college basketball season and the NCAA Tournament will be about who legitimately had 9-seed Kansas State taking on 11-seed Loyola-Chicago in the South Regional championship in Atlanta’s Phillips Arena on Saturday afternoon.

Maybe it was an ardent Ramblers supporter who would advance Loyola-Chicago and was looking for someone other than Arizona, Virginia or Kentucky to play in the Elite Eight.  It could have been a Kansas State fan who was devoutly Catholic and had a degree from the school of Chicago’s hottest new sports team.  Or maybe it was Sister Jean, the 98-year old sweetheart of a nun who is the Ramblers’ team chaplain as she has become the face of this year’s March Madness.

In any event, it is a most improbable duo set to hit the dance floor on the classic blind date to find out who gets a berth in next week’s Final Four in San Antonio.

Loyola hits Saturday’s matchup after a thrilling 69-68 win over Nevada as the Ramblers, adept to clutch shots, made another one late in the shot clock.

Cody Martin had just made two free throws as Nevada had closed to within one for the second time with inside of a minute to play.  On the next possession, Loyola point guard and leading scorer Clayton Custer started the offense late in the shot clock and dribbled into the right side of the lane, the action drew Nevada’s Caleb Martin off of the Ramblers’ Marques Townes as Martin helped in the paint.

Custer saw this and kicked out to Townes who released the ball as Martin closed out. It went through with seven seconds remaining as the Ramblers took a 69-65 lead and eventually squeezed by the Wolf Pack.

“Clay made a great play, got downhill, kicked me to the corner,” said Townes, “The guy came flying at me, so I just gave him a little shot fake, and I shot it, and it went in. It was just – that’s something you dream about.”

Loyola’s resilience has made the Ramblers and Sister Jean the darlings of the tournament.  Porter Moser’s squad had Donte Ingram’s buzzer-beater to beat Miami, Custer’s dribble drive and a shot that lipped the rim to beat Tennessee, and then Townes’ heroics – all of these inside of a minute left in the game.  The Ramblers are only the second team in tournament history to win three games by a total of four points.

Resilience describes Kansas State’s plight and berth in the Elite Eight as well after the Purple Wildcats defeated Kentucky’s Wildcats, 61-58, in the second game on Thursday evening.

Kansas State embraces the grind maybe better than anyone in the nation as Bruce Weber’s Wildcats claw, scrap, dive, deflect, snatch, and well – grind.

They didn’t want an all-out 94-feet of hardwood with Kentucky and the fact that they had three players foul out and four more finish with four fouls each actually played into their favor as Kentucky could not get into a rhythm and only attempted 42 shots while getting to the line 37 times, making only 23.

Guard Barry Brown, as hard-nosed a point guard as there is in the college game, found a lane on the left side with 19 seconds left as he beat Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to the cup and scored over the outstretched arm of P.J. Washington.  This gave Kansas State a 60-58 lead and after Amaad Wainright made a free throw, Gilgeous-Alexander missed at the buzzer as the Purple Cats held on.

“We knew they were trying to block the shot,” said Brown. “Just with their length, they’ve been blocking the shots all game. Once I got past my man, I just wanted to get the ball away from the people that were going to block my shot, and I was able to make the lay-up.”

Embracing the grind is what Kansas State and Loyola-Chicago are all about.  Saturday will be about who has the sharpest blades in what has been a grind of a South Region.

 

 

 

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