Illinois, Loyola ready for rare in-state tournament matchup
There's hope for the future and a link to important history in today's Illinois-Loyola second-round tournament game.
This is the first time two schools from Illinois have met in the NCAA Tournament since DePaul and Illinois State matched up in the 1984 second round. Considering the state has had trouble even placing two teams in the same tournament, it's nice to see some local success.
The other all-Illinois game in NCAA Tournament history was Loyola vs. Illinois in the 1963 Mideast Regional Final at East Lansing, Mich. Loyola won on the way to capturing the only championship by an Illinois school.
The Illinois-Loyola game happened a couple days after the Ramblers beat Mississippi State in the regional semifinals. That game is famous for Mississippi State defying a state prohibition against playing integrated teams. That Ramblers team featured four Black starters.
One of the stars from that era, Jerry Harkness, lives in Indianapolis and over the years has interacted with the team often, when health protocols allow.
"I've had Jerry Harkness and other team members speak to our guys for years about social justice issues, about what they went through," Loyola coach Porter Moser said Saturday on a Zoom call with reporters. "The '63 team was the 'Game of Change.' Our guys are well aware that it was the only national championship in Illinois."
Loyola team chaplain Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, also spoke to reporters via Zoom from Indianapolis. She said she doesn't remember the 1963 Loyola-Illinois game because it wasn't on television, but does remember the championship game. She was working at nearby Mundelein College at the time and recalls the victory over Cincinnati being shown on delay.
"As soon as we won that game, all the male students from Loyola -- it was all-male at that time -- who lived in one residence hall, came out and walked down Sheridan Road in the middle of the street, even though it was midnight, yelling, 'We won, we won, we won,'" she said. "And they came into the Mundelein residence hall and all the girls joined in from there. Then they walked back again and almost up to Evanston."
When it comes to players on the current teams, there's history as well. Illini guard Ayo Dosunmu talked about growing up with Loyola's Lucas Williamson, who led the Ramblers with 21 points in Friday's win over Georgia Tech.
"Yeah, that's my main man," Dosunmu said. "Luke, we go back decades ago, when we first started playing basketball together, we played on the same Jr. NBA league. So his family and my family are tight and we were close friends growing up. We played together a long time."
Dosunmu talked about being a fan of Loyola during the 2018 Final Four run, which happened just after Dosunmu led Morgan Park to the 3A state title. He's hoping basketball fans in Chicago will get a chance to return the favor.
"That was my goal," Dosunmu said. "That's where I wanted to lead Illinois, a Final Four and the NCAA Tournament where we're putting the whole city on notice because that's how it is in Chicago. Whenever someone from Chicago is successful doing something big, the whole city rallies around them.
"So I just wanted to be in a situation where I can be a part of something like that. That's why I always root for my city and my state, because when it's my time to go around, I would expect the same love."
The game itself will feature an interesting matchup at center between Loyola's Cameron Krutwig and Illinois' Kofi Cockburn. While the 7-foot, 275-pound Cockburn used size and strength to dominate in the first round against Drexel, the 6-9, 255-pound Krutwig, from Jacobs High School, has utilized versatility and mobility to succeed against taller opponents in the past.
As a No. 1 seed, Illinois is a strong favorite, but there have already been bigger upsets in the tournament.
"We know we have to have a confident respect, and we do," Moser said. "You're not going to play bad teams, you're playing elite teams, but the guys are excited for that. This is how they're built. They want the challenge."
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