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We have become so conditioned to things breaking perfectly for the kids clad in the maroon and the gold. Mostly that’s because, before Saturday, our awareness of Loyola Chicago had been contained to seven NCAA Tournament games across 2018 and the past 10 days.
Seven games. Six wins. Most of them clinics.
We are not used to deep shots clanking off the rims when Loyola players are shooting them. We are not used to opposing teams getting second and third shots against Loyola. We are not used to the other team making all the important plays.
But that happened this time.
This time, Oregon State had answers, whereas other teams only had questions. This time the Beavers — who seemed to be stuck on “3” for the entire first half — made one huge push late in the first half and then withstood 20 second-half minutes when everyone expected the Ramblers would have one major move in them.
That never happened.
So it was the Beavers that won Saturday, 65-58, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. It was 12th-seeded Oregon State that earned a date in the Elite Eight on Monday. This was a team that was 11-11 at one time. It is now 20-12. The Beavers stormed through the Pac-12 Tournament. They are 3-for-3 in this NCAA Tournament.
Loyola, which finished a glorious season 26-5, found itself in a number of unusual predicaments Saturday.
For once, the eighth-seeded Ramblers had the second-best coach on the sidelines, OSU’s Wayne Tinkle coaching the game of his life and schooling Loyola’s Porter Moser. For once, the troika of advantages, both real and ethereal, that had fueled them — Moser, Sister Jean Schmidt, and an underdog’s chip on every shoulder — was ineffective.
The Beavers were the underdogs, the Cinderella, and played that way.
“One thing we talked about was: have fun with each other, believe in each other, and we embodied that today,” said Oregon State guard Ethan Thompson, who scored a game-high 22 points. “I think this team is so competitive, our guys want to win so bad we’re all able to step out of our comfort zone and make plays we may not be used to making.”
Oregon State scored exactly one point in the game’s first six minutes and Loyola still led just 9-3, with 10:43 to go in the half. But the Ramblers didn’t take advantage of the Beavers’ largesse. Oregon State went on a 7-0 run and kept Loyola scoreless for three full minutes, seizing a 10-9 lead. Loyola snapped out of that and regained a 16-13 lead, but Thompson made a tying 3-pointer, then two free throws for an 18-16 lead, and the Beavers never again trailed.
Loyola made only one of its first 16 3-point attempts, and finished just 5-for-23 — 21.7 percent. During the Ramblers’ sprint to the Final Four in 2018 and again last weekend in tournament-opening wins over Georgia Tech and top-seeded Illinois, they made every important 3 and rolled on an inside-outside game that bordered on unstoppable.
But Oregon State found a way to stop it.
“A very hard scene in out locker room,” said Moser, who will now almost certainly be courted by every big-time school with a vacancy, led by Indiana and Texas, and will have to ask himself if he wants greener, richer pastures or to stay where he has built a comfortable and successful fiefdom by Lake Michigan.
“The kids cared and invested so much,” he said. “It’s very tough when it comes to an end.”
Especially when the underdogs become the overdogs. That’s what had happened to the Ramblers after two unforgettable rushes through the tournament.
Now it’s Oregon State which wears the glass slipper.
“Our team overall has played calm,” Tinkle said. “There’s so much trust in that locker room, their minds are clear they have each other’s backs. It’s amazing to watch the level we’re playing right now. We may be surprising people, but we aren’t surprised.”
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