INDIANAPOLIS – Loyola Chicago might be the only team that feels as though little has changed about the NCAA Tournament.
Probably has something to do with all the winning the Ramblers do.
The surprise semifinalist in 2018, Loyola was relegated to the NIT the next year and missed out on the tournament entirely — along with everyone else — when it was canceled due to COVID-19 last season. But with key pieces of their Final Four team leading the way, the eighth-seeded Ramblers marked a triumphant return to college basketball's biggest stage Friday with a 71-60 victory over No. 9 seed Georgia Tech at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
Lucas Williamson scored 21 points in a dynamic performance by the defensive whiz, Buddy Norris added 16 points and All-America forward Cameron Krutwig had 10 as the Ramblers (25-4) advanced to play No. 1 seed Illinois on Sunday.
“It is an unusual tournament,” said Williamson, a freshman on that last NCAA tourney team, “but I will say everything is unusual about it until you get on the floor. We had some fans in the building, they were in here hyping it up. Once you're on the court, you're just playing basketball.”
Doing it at a high level, too — especially when it mattered.
After trailing 43-40 midway through the second half, Loyola heated up from beyond the arc and clamped down on defense, forcing Georgia Tech (17-9) into a series of missed shots and ugly turnovers during the decisive final five minutes.
Keith Clemons hit a 3-pointer that gave the Missouri Valley champs a 62-54 lead with 3 1/2 minutes to go, Norris added another from the top of the key to make it 67-56 with just over 2 minutes left, and the ACC Tournament champs finally ran out of answers as their eight-game winning streak came to an end.