2018-03-24 21:55:03
Loyola-Chicago Is in the Final Four After a Rout of Kansas State

21:55, March 24 139 0

ATLANTA — They had a mantra: believe, believe, believe. It came with a plan to be greedy and win one game, another, another and another. Now the Ramblers from Loyola of Chicago have turned a charmed N.C.A.A. tournament run into the ultimate journey for a college basketball team.

They routed Kansas State, 78-62, on Saturday to earn a trip to the Final Four for the first time since 1963, when Loyola-Chicago won its only national title.

Loyola-Chicago will face either Michigan or Florida State — who were set to play each other later Saturday — next weekend in the national semifinals in San Antonio.

Saturday’s victory promised to keep the team’s 98-year-old chaplain, scout and inspiration, Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, in the spotlight for at least another week. It also fulfilled a prophecy by Sister Jean, who picked her beloved Ramblers to reach the national title game in one of her brackets. She called it her Cinderella bracket.

The Ramblers’ mind-set was perhaps best demonstrated when the senior guard Ben Richardson, with 16 minutes 54 seconds left in the game, launched a 3-point shot over Kamau Stokes, making it and drawing a foul.

By the time Richardson had completed a rare 4-point play, the Ramblers were up by 45-29, the Loyola faithful — who had swarmed this city and swelled Philips Arena with maroon and gold — were on their feet and in noisy euphoria, their sights set on San Antonio.

The 11th-seeded Ramblers had captured the imagination of even casual sports fans by relying on hustle and sharpshooting to win their three previous games in heart-stopping fashion, by a combined 4 points.

Led by Richardson’s 23 points on Saturday, Loyola outshot (57.4 percent to 35.4 percent), outrebounded (36-28) and outhustled ninth-seeded Kansas State.

The Ramblers became the fourth No. 11 seed to advance to the men’s Final Four, joining Louisiana State (1986), George Mason (2006) and Virginia Commonwealth (2011). A No. 11 seed has never played in the national championship game.

Kansas State was trying to return to the Final Four for the first time since 1964, and looked worthy of getting there when it defeated Kentucky, 61-58, on Thursday.

The Ramblers opened Saturday’s game with a high-speed assault on Kansas State, dropping in 3-pointers. Richardson was 3 for 3 beyond the 3-point arc as the Ramblers went on a 15-4 run to take a 19-9 lead and put the Wildcats on their heels. Loyola kept them there by powering through the lane for twisting layups — two of which resulted in fouls and 3-point plays.

The Wildcats were stunned after Loyola rode 55 percent shooting to a 36-24 halftime lead. Things did not get any better for Kansas State in the second half as the Ramblers kept up their sizzling shooting for a 20-point lead. Even when the Ramblers went scoreless for more than four minutes, the Wildcats managed only to whittle Loyola’s lead to 13.

Once again it was Richardson holding up the Ramblers, drilling a 3-pointer with a little more than four minutes to play.

With 2:32 left, Loyola’s Marques Townes streaked to the basket, dropped in a finger roll and was fouled. He converted the 3-point play, and the Ramblers were up 17 and unquestionably in control.

Now, the Ramblers are going to San Antonio, because they believed. They still do. They are going because they were greedy. They still are.