ATLANTA — With Loyola-Chicago clinging to a one-point lead and only 6.3 seconds remaining, Marques Townes sank a 3-pointer from in front of the Ramblers’ bench to continue their improbable NCAA Tournament run.
Townes scored 18 points, including the key 3-pointer, to lead Loyola to a 69-68 win over Nevada in Thursday night’s NCAA South Regional semifinal.
“I think Marcus Townes is the best player on the court tonight,” said Loyola guard Clayton Custer. “I don’t even think it was close, either. I am so happy for him. He is such a good basketball player and such a good person, I am just so happy he dominated the game tonight and he led us.
“This is unbelievable. Feels like a dream.”
The win leaves the No. 11th-seeded Ramblers one victory from a Final Four appearance.
Not bad for a program that hadn’t been in the Sweet 16 in 33 years.
Townes charged down the court, pumping his fist, as Nevada called a timeout following the crucial 3-pointer. Caleb Martin answered with a 3 for Nevada, but this time the Wolf Pack couldn’t extend their string of second-half comebacks in the tournament.
Loyola (31-5) plays in Saturday’s regional final.
Martin led Nevada (29-8) with 21 points. Twin brother Cody Martin had 16. Jordan Carolina had 19.The Wolf Pack finally faced a deficit too big to overcome.
Loyola trailed by 12 points, at 20-8, midway through the first half but stormed back to lead 28-24 at halftime. Loyola closed the half with a 20-4 run as Nevada didn’t score in the final 7:55 before the break.
After leading a combined 4 minutes, 24 seconds of their first two NCAA Tournament wins, the Wolf Pack didn’t trail in the opening 18 minutes of the first half. Even after leading 20-8 and appearing to have established command, Nevada found a way to trail at halftime for the sixth straight game.
Following a 4-4 tie, Nevada took the lead with an 8-0 run that included a layup and two free throws by Jordan Caroline.
Loyola pushed the ball in the paint on almost every possession. The Ramblers’ first 10 points came on layups.
Freshman Cameron Krutwig, who at 6-foot-9, 260 pounds stood out as the biggest player for either team, had eight of Loyola’s first 19 points but went to the bench with two fouls with 6:26 remaining in the half. He picked up his third foul midway through the second half.
Loyola’s relentless attack on the basket continued as it stretched its lead, one layup at a time, in the second half.
Following a steal by Townes, Ben Richardson’s layup gave the Ramblers their first double-digit lead at 36-26 and took their biggest lead at 40-28.
Nevada’s experience in second-half comebacks paid off. After Loyola’s layup by Clayton Custer gave the Ramblers their last 10-point lead at 57-47, the Wolf Pack charged back.
Cody Martin’s basket started a 12-2 run, and his layup tied the game at 59-all with 4:06 remaining.
The Ramblers showed strong poise by sticking with their game plan to attack the basket, even when the Wolf Pack collected five blocks in the first half. Loyola took a 46-34 advantage in points in the paint.
The Wolf Pack couldn’t keep pace with Loyola’s inside attack. They made only 8 of 27 3-pointers.
Four members of Loyola’s famous 1963 NCAA championship team had front-row seats: Jerry Harkness, Les Hunter, John Egan and Rich Rochelle. In the final minutes of the game, Harkness could be heard saying, “We need a stop. We just need a stop.”
Also attending the game was Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, Loyola’s 98-year-old team chaplain who has become a celebrity during the tournament, who said after the win: “Here we come next team, whoever you are.”
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