Loyola Chicago is heading back to the Sweet 16 after pulling off the biggest upset of the men’s NCAA Tournament, sending No. 1 seed Illinois home in the second round on Sunday.
The Ramblers (26-4) came out firing and controlled the game’s pace from the start, building a nine-point cushion at halftime that they never relinquished in a well-executed second half.
This isn’t coach Porter Moser’s first time helping his team thrive in March. His smart and methodical halfcourt offense took a high-octane Illinois squad out of its rhythm, and the nation’s top defense (Loyola limits opponents to 55.7 points a game) was on full display to disrupt a typically smooth-flowing Illini offense.
Loyola senior center Cameron Krutwig (19 points, 12 rebounds, five assists) took it to fellow All-America big man Kofi Cockburn (21 points, nine rebounds), and the veteran’s play was the difference in this contest, creating easy buckets for his teammates off back-door passes and using his footwork to score off a more athletic Cockburn.
Ayo Dosunmu, USA TODAY Sports’ national player of the year, had a terrible game. He had nine points on 4-for-10 shooting and couldn’t find his shot in the slower pace that Loyola dictated. The Ramblers’ team defense offset Dosunmu’s excellent individual offense, with little room for him to take control with few isolation opportunities. Dosunmu made poor decisions, committing six turnovers and struggling to create for others while his shots weren’t falling.
Loyola forced Illinois into 17 turnovers, 4-for-14 three-point shooting and a season-low 58 points. But it was all the pace that made the Illini look like the No. 8 seed instead of the No. 1. Illinois was one of, if not the hottest teams in the country, having won 15 of 16, and coach Brad Underwood’s team was a favorite to win the national title. Instead, this is the first No. 1 seed going home. The Big Ten was the best conference in the country, per NET rankings, but it was Loyola’s endurance with back-to-back Missouri Valley Conference games that made it ready for a bracket-busting win on the sport’s biggest stage.
Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.