Not this time for Loyola.
No late-game heroics. No cutting down the nets. No Final Four. No living the impossible dream.
So, it’s over. A Ramblers run that reached the Sweet 16 had nowhere else to go. A 65-58 loss Saturday to Oregon State at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis was an upset, sure, was heartbreaking, sure, came too damn soon, sure. But have we really reached a point where the Ramblers making it to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament is anything less than a gigantic success?
News flash: No, we haven’t.
All that talk about Loyola becoming the next Gonzaga? It was comically premature.
What Loyola actually is — a midsize program that, for four years now, has squeezed nearly every drop of potential out of itself — will just plain have to do.
“I think people see the Loyola name now,” coach Porter Moser said, “and I think they think different things about it than they did six, seven, eight years ago.”
They think about the 2018 Final Four squad, which included then-freshmen Cameron Krutwig and Lucas Williamson. They think about the team that, three years later — revolving around its senior duo, especially the one-of-a-kind Krutwig — stole the second-round show by lighting top-seeded Illinois’ shorts on fire. They think about Moser, a star who soon will have some big decisions to make. They think about nuns and scarves and college basketball in the city of Chicago, that last one a mighty feat for the Ramblers to have pulled off.
And they’ll think about the way this run ended, with a nightmarish shooting performance for the eighth-seeded Ramblers (26-5). Brick by brick, Moser’s squad pulled apart its own chances against the 12th-seeded Beavers (20-12), who stood taller, jumped higher and — unlike the Illini — acted the part of a major-conference team against a mid-major foe in March.
“I thought we played our tails off,” Moser said. “I thought we did a lot of things. We didn’t shoot the ball well.”
Shooting 5-for-23 from long range isn’t how you get from Point A to Point B. It’s how you get from Point A to crying faces hiding under towels. In the locker room after it was over, Moser looked at his emotionally wiped-out players and told them to pull the towels off their heads, look up and see one another. He thanked them for representing the name on the fronts of their jerseys so well.
Six minutes into the game, the Beavers still didn’t have a field goal. The Ramblers weren’t scoring, either, but a 7-1 lead seemed large. It felt like another big tournament day for a team that was a Sweet 16 favorite but self-identifies so strongly and successfully as the underdog.
Loyola’s postseason successes in 2018 and 2021 probably suckered a lot of us in. Didn’t we think the Ramblers would beat Oregon State even though the Pac-12 tournament champs were red-hot and coming off an enormously impressive second-round win against potential No. 1 NBA pick Cade Cunningham and Oklahoma State?
But these March games are about steely nerves, precious possessions, momentum swings and — when isn’t basketball about this? — knocking down shots. For all the teams that don’t do that enough, the end rushes in on a wave of disappointment and tears.
“We’ll have a lot of memories to look back on,” Krutwig said, “but as of right now, it hurts. … [But] that game will kind of fade off, and the memories that we made, the celebrations and everything, those will remain.”
Krutwig and Williamson embraced on the sideline with a couple of ticks left on the clock, their work — and their Loyola careers? — finished. There is the question about whether or not one or both will return to take advantage of the optional extra year due to the pandemic. Both Moser and Krutwig said it was too soon to discuss that publicly.
And the question that looms even larger: What does Moser’s own future hold?
Will the 52-year-old Naperville native take his shot at a higher-profile, more lucrative job? Is a 10-season stretch in Rogers Park — the second half of which was brilliant — enough? Is it time to love the name on the fronts of some other school’s uniforms?
“I need to digest this,” he said. “I’ve had my blinders on and given 110% of Porter Moser to this Rambler team. I’ve blocked out the noise. I just need time to digest this with these guys. That’s all I can tell you right now.”
And here’s all that can be said about his team: It did more than well enough.