ATLANTA — As unlikely as it sounds, after 55 years Loyola is headed back to the Final Four. And they got there with a blowout: 78-62 against Kansas State in Saturday’s South Region final at Philips Arena.
Loyola fans — including members of the 1963 national champions — buzzed from the opening minutes, realizing early that the impossible was within reason. They waved their maroon-and-gold scarves over their heads as the final seconds ticked away.
Their chants of “L-U-C” changed to “Final Four.”
Coach Porter Moser hopped over a press table to embrace his wife and four kids.
Loyola, tucked away near Lake Michigan in Rogers Park on the North Side of Chicago and often forgotten in a city obsessed with professional sports, became the city’s most successful team since the World Series Cubs.
The Ramblers, picked to finish third in the Missouri Valley Conference preseason poll, became the state’s first team to reach the Final Four since the Illini in 2005. That team, of course, was coached by Bruce Weber, who coached Loyola’s opponent Saturday.
After rallying to win each of their previous three NCAA Tournament games, the Ramblers rolled into the Final Four.
Every tournament night featured a different star. In that way, this one was no different.
This time, Ben Richardson didn’t become a hero with a last-second shot as his teammates did. He did it from the opening minute to the last second.
Richardson scored a career-high 23 points on 7 of 10 shooting. He already had reached his season high with 14 minutes to play. At one point, after making a 3-pointer and drawing a foul, he lay on the court smiling, spreading his arms as if he were about to make a snow angel.
When Richardson checked out of the game with 34.6 seconds left, he and Moser bear hugged each other, the coach shaking the player by the shoulders.
Loyola’s best game of the tournament was its biggest blowout since a 19-point Feb. 21 victory against Southern Illinois.
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