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Adam Hermann | | March 25, 2018

Loyola heads to Final Four with knack for big moments

Loyola Chicago beats Kansas State, 78-62

ATLANTA — Ben Richardson stood clutching the trophy like it was liable to wriggle free and out of reach. He wore his black Final Four hat backwards, sweat drying on his forehead, a smile stamped on his face for the evening. Maroon and gold confetti was an inescapable hazard on the floor where, just 30 minutes earlier, Richardson and Loyola Chicago had won a basketball game to send the Ramblers to San Antonio for the program’s first Final Four in 55 years.

Loyola Chicago’s head coach, Porter Moser, was climbing a ladder on the opposite end of the hardwood. Richardson, who’d been holding court with reporters for the better part of a dozen minutes, held his hand up and stretched his neck to see his leader snip part of the net for a keepsake. 

“I’ve gotta watch him,” Richardson said. “He’s been dreaming about this his whole life.” 

When Moser had cut two parts of twine and claimed his piece of netting, he turned to the rest of the court and pumped his fist. 

That was all Richardson needed to see.

“I love that man!” Richardson shouted, and he ran away from the reporters and towards the man he’s listened to for four years. It was a moment Richardson, and Moser, surely won’t ever forget.

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The NCAA tournament plays out in real time, and then, as humans are wont to do, it is turned into a series of moments, crystallizing around 'One Shining Moment.' On Saturday night, the Ramblers put the finishing touches on a two-week journey that seemed to be made exclusively of moments, all highs and no lows — and no end in sight to the variety with which this team plays. 

Richardson was the pivotal figure on the offensive end, the fourth hero in four games on the team’s way to being one of four teams left. 

After making just one of nine 3-point attempts in the first three rounds, the senior drained six of his seven attempts from behind the arc in an impassioned performance. A seasoned veteran, Richardson of course gave his teammates the credit.

“My teammates were just finding me,” Richardson said. “I was in a rhythm, but they just kept finding me, and that’s why this team is so special. We have unselfish guys, and it shows.” 

After Richardson drained a late-clock 3-pointer, his third, with 18 seconds left in the first half, he forced a turnover to head into the locker room, a one-two punch that felt like a closing statement even with 20 minutes left unplayed.

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He turned to a raucous Loyola fan section and quietly nodded, wearing the same grin he wore in the postgame celebration. 

It was yet another moment for the scrapbook, after a four-game run that defied expectations but complied with logic.

Loyola Chicago's March Madness magic

In the Round of 64, Donte Ingram became the Ramblers’ first hero with his deep three to lift them past Miami. In the Round of 32, they toppled Tennessee behind Clayton Custer’s last-second floater. Against Nevada in the Sweet 16, Marques Townes led his team with 18 points and a game-sealing three, scoring the final point that would prove to be the difference.

On Saturday night, even while Richardson claimed his time as the team’s hero and filled the box score, seven different Loyola Chicago players attempted at least three shots on Saturday night, all seven scoring at least six points. The Ramblers notched 17 assists on their 27 field goals, in stark contrast to Kansas State’s nine assists on 23 field goals. 

This is what made Loyola Chicago so dangerous for four games, and makes them so dangerous against Michigan: this is a complete basketball team, one with knack for making plays, and a cast of playmakers beyond a singular star.

Ben Richardson and Clayton Custer post-game interview
After the final buzzer sounded and the Ramblers stood on press row, twirling Final Four T-shirts; after Moser had hurdled the rows of seats between the floor and the stands to thank the fans himself; after confetti snow angels had been recorded for internet posterity, there stood not one player or one moment or one reason Loyola Chicago had reached the Final Four. The Ramblers travel to San Antonio as a legitimate threat to win the national championship . 

And it’s safe to say no one knows what moment to expect next.

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