Rambling to the Sweet 16: The “R” word applies to Loyola, too

DALLAS, TX - MARCH 17: Loyola-Chicago Ramblers players celebrate winning the NCAA Div I Men's Championship Second Round basketball game between Loyola-Chicago and Tennessee on March 17, 2018 at American Airlines Center in Dallas, TX. (Photo by George Walker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

CHICAGO – If there is anyone that might be able to top their story in this NCAA Tournament, it’s their opponent in the Sweet 16.

Yes, Nevada’s comebacks in the second half been so large in number and so dramatic that they’ve managed to equal those accomplishments so far of 11th-seeded Loyola – even with the Ramblers winning two-straight games on buzzer-beaters.

The tenth-seeded Wolfpack knocked off seventh-seeded Texas by erasing a 14-point second half deficit to win it 87-83. On Sunday they topped that, rallying from a 22-point deficit with 11 minutes to go to beat the second-seeded Bearcats 75-73 to advance to their first Sweet 16 in 14 years.

That comeback was the second-biggest in tournament history, so the “R” word has been used a lot for Nevada as they prepare for their South Region semifinal against Loyola on Thursday. That could be “resilience” or “resolve” – either one certainly fits a team that simply won’t die this March.

“You’ve got to give credit to a team like that who fought back with a huge deficit,” said Ramblers senior guard Ben Richardson. “That’s just the kinda stuff that happens in March, and you’ve always got to be ready for a team to make a historic comeback.

“That’s a tribute to the way they play – they play super hard.”

Yet Porter Moser doesn’t want a similar narrative forgotten about his team. While their comebacks in the first two rounds were not as dramatic as Nevada, they did have to rally in order to create the now famous game-winning shots by Donte Ingram and Clayton Custer in the first two rounds.

Against Miami, the Ramblers were down seven to start the second half but rallied to win by two. Tennessee jumped on them early in the second round, leading by nine in the first half, and then the Volunteers erased a nine-point second half Loyola lead to grab the lead in the final minute.

Each time the Ramblers rallied back to get the victory, putting them in the Sweet 16 for the first time in 33 years. Is that not resilient, too?

“We’ll I think we have resolve too,” said Moser. “We’ve had many games in the conference tournament. It was down to the wire with Northern Iowa, Bradley, Miami, Tennessee. We’ve been down seven in timeouts late. I think we’ve had resolve.

“I think it’s going to be a great match-up of two teams that really are gritty, really believe.”

For this reason, the first game of the regional semifinals is one of the more intriguing of the slate. If Loyola wins, it will be their first Elite Eight appearance since their National Championship season of 1963. Nevada has never been there at all, so expect a fair amount of resolve or resilience around 6 PM Thursday at Philips Arena.

“I’m watching it, and this team has no quit in them,” said guard Lucas Williamson, who watched Cincinnati’s comeback on Sunday. “That’s something that we have – and I can definitely relate to that.”

The Ramblers hope that others will relate that same characteristic to them as they approach a “sweet” moment in Atlanta.