Loyola tops Georgia Tech 71-60, will face Illini on Sunday
Lucas Williamson may operate in the shadow of Cameron Krutwig and may be known as a defensive specialist for the Loyola Ramblers.
But Williamson stepped out big time Friday, leading all scorers with 21 points as Loyola beat Georgia Tech 71-60 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
The victory earned the No. 8 seed Ramblers a Sunday date with top-seeded Illinois, which beat Drexel 78-49 earlier in the day.
Williamson excelled at both ends of the court and displayed his senior leadership when the Ramblers got down 13-3 early and looked like they might be run off the court by the champions of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
"I've played in this tournament before," said Williamson, a member of the Ramblers' surprising run to the Final Four in 2018. "I'm playing with people that this is the first time in this tournament. We came out; we were a little shaky. So I knew that I wanted to step up as a leader and give my team confidence.
"That's what I wanted to do early, and I just kind of rolled the hot hand the rest of the game."
That wasn't the only hint of foreshadowing in this game. The Ramblers ended that drought with a 3-pointer by Braden Norris as the shot clock was expiring. Norris wound up with 16 points on 4-of-7 shooting from 3-point range. Three-pointers were large for Loyola in both halves, as they finished 11-for-27 from long distance.
Hardly forgotten, Krutwig scored 10 points and added 5 rebounds, and Keith Clemons added 12 points, including three 3-pointers.
"I thought our guys played with a lot of grit, led by Lucas Williamson and Braden Norris, Aher Uguak" said Ramblers coach Porter Moser, whose Missouri Valley Conference champions improved to 25-4 with their seventh straight win and 18th in their last 19 games. "They just had a grit to them."
If you're looking for one astonishing stat, it's the 12-1 lead the Ramblers had in offensive rebounds. That allowed them to overcome 57.4 percent shooting by the Yellow Jackets (17-9). The Ramblers were able to do that in part because Tech big man Moses Wright missed the game with COVID issues.
"They have so many strengths, Georgia Tech," Moser said. "We really wanted to go to the glass if they were going to go small. Lucas went. I think Marquise got a big one, Aher. So we were really making a point of that.
"If they were going to go small, we were going to try to go to the glass and get some more (rebounds). I thought our guys did a good job of getting some extra possessions for us with that."
Loyola took a 30-25 lead at the half, but the Yellow Jackets didn't fold. A 9-0 run erased a 37-30 Loyola lead and put them up 39-37.
With the score tied at 43-43 Williamson hit a big 3 from the left side, as part of a 10-0 run for the Ramblers.
Georgia Tech guard Jose Alvarado played all 40 minutes, wearing Wright's uniform No. 5. Jordan Usher had 15 points, and Michael Devoe had 14 for the Yellow Jackets, who flirted with foul trouble much of the game.
Now the Ramblers will turn their attention to Big Ten powerhouse Illinois, picked by many to win the whole thing. The elephant in the room since last week has been Loyola's seed, which put them on a collision course with Illinois even though many metrics showed that Loyola likely deserved a higher seed.
"Illinois is going to be a tough matchup for us," Williamson said. "We know they're one of the best teams in the country, but ultimately I'm just focused on whoever's in front of me, and it just happens to be Illinois."
Moser no doubt will use his team's seed to, well, seed some extra motivation. The Ramblers also will draw upon the vocal contingent of fans who made it to Indy along with inspirational leader, 101-year-old chaplain Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt.
"Obviously we've got an amazing amount of respect (for Illinois) for how good they are," Moser said. "They're terrific. They play hard. They play both ends, offense and defense. They're well coached. Looking forward to the opportunity."
Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner gave credit to Moser and the Ramblers.
"The way Coach Moser has them running, they're going to be building a statue of him at Loyola-Chicago," Pastner said. "If they haven't already, I would imagine it's going to be in the works sooner than later for the job he's done."