A Jesuit school on the far north side of Chicago so far removed from the public conscience that it’s long fought an uphill battle to escape the camouflage of sports section agate. A 98-year-old nun whose golden years are being spent going viral. Three improbable and thrilling NCAA Tournament victories.
Loyola’s Cinderella run has taken it to the Elite 8 and 40 minutes from college basketball’s most hallowed ground. It’s trite to say the whole thing reads like a Hollywood script but that’s the bizarre reality. And not an entirely believable one.
Three consecutive victories in the final seconds seem a little much. Tantalizing bounces on the rim seems needlessly dramatic. Not missing a field goal for over 11 minutes an overwrite. Fourteen consecutive makes an unrealistic flourish.
Yet here we are.
Marques Townes’ triple with 6.2 seconds remaining lifted the Ramblers over Nevada, 69-68, on Thursday night. Just when these 11th-seeded magicians appear to be out of white rabbits, another falls from the sleeve. The only other team to win three straight tournament games by four total points is St. Joseph’s in 1981.
Whispers of divine intervention are understandable. Something special is happening. There’s nothing wrong with a little hyperbole and sports-based faith.
But to pretend that the Ramblers haven’t been masters of their destiny and earned their success by Earthly means would be naive. Loyola is where they are because they’ve outplayed Miami, Tennessee, and Nevada in succession. The players have broken out with a contagious case of clutch gene and are playing fearless. And intelligently.
Twenty-three of Loyola’s 29 field goals Thursday came on layups or dunks. There’s high-percentage shots and then there’s what happened in the second half. There’s good shots, great shots, and perfect shots. The Ramblers have been living on the last group.
The script is fantastic and the most sensational parts backed by sound exposition. It’s one hell of a movie and America can’t wait to see more on Saturday.