ATLANTA — Loyola Chicago’s first 306 seconds of Thursday’s Sweet 16 matchup with Nevada were too quiet for Ramblers head coach Porter Moser’s liking.
Nevada scored 15 points in five minutes. Its first five made field goals were layups. This wasn’t the defense Moser’s Ramblers had played with all season, and they could hear it.“I think we were all too quiet to start the game,” Loyola guard Clayton Custer said after the 11-seed Ramblers topped the Wolfpack 69-68 in Atlanta.
Moser saw too many back cuts beating his normally stout defenders, a unit which entered the game ranked 27th in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency according to KenPom.com.
“It was pretty much, verbatim, the first five minutes of the Tennessee timeout,” said Moser, and indeed he was right. Tennessee scored 15 points of its own in Loyola’s second round matchup with the Volunteers, taking a 15-6 lead before five minutes had passed.
Moser called a timeout in that situation, too.
This time, he called a timeout, told his players to pipe up, and then watched them go to work. The Ramblers forced six turnovers by halftime, held Nevada to 33.3 percent shooting on 27 attempts, and held the Wolfpack scoreless for the final seven minutes and 55 seconds of the opening half.
Suddenly, those first five minutes weren’t looming so large.
It wasn’t Custer or first-round hero Donte Ingram who helped lift Loyola out of its sleepy first five minutes, either. Custer said freshman Cameron Krutwig, a 6-9, baby-faced center, has been the loudest member of this year’s team by far when the team is on the defensive end.
And once Krutwig piped up, guard Ben Richardson — this year’s Missouri Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year — found another gear as he worked to keep Nevada’s twin brothers, Caleb and Cody Martin, in check. The duo finished with just nine points in the first half on 12 field goal attempts, a victory in anyone’s book for the Ramblers’ defenders.A “Sis-ter Jean!” chant rose from a fan section waking up across the court from the team’s bench. If Loyola’s defense was going to get loud, so too were its supporters. The players and the patrons played off each other’s passion; when freshman guard Lucas Williamson played Caleb Martin tight as the Nevada star tried to back into the paint, ultimately forcing a travel, Williamson turned to the crowd and exalted, thrusting his palms (and most of his 190-pound frame) into the air. The fans roared in return.
This was the volume Moser had asked for in the timeout.
By the time Cody Martin heaved up a desperation airball, sick of being stifled by the Ramblers, the maroon-and-gold crowd was deafening. Scarves were held aloft. “L-U!” chants rang out through Philips Arena. As a young Ramblers fan walked up the stairs of section 105 with his team leading by four points at the break, he shouted backwards to a friend, “That was awesome.”
In the opening moments of the second half, Loyola emerged from its locker room and avoided a post-rally letdown with even more defense. The Ramblers opened up a 10-point lead after halftime, forcing two turnovers in the first two minutes en route to making their first 13 shots of the second half.
The Wolfpack eventually found their stroke as the game wore on, but the noisy defense that held Nevada to two points in 10:38 of game time had already made itself heard.