No. 11 seed Loyola’s first round matchup in the NCAA tournament against No. 6 seed Miami may have taken place in Dallas Thursday afternoon, but on Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus, Rambler spirit was in full effect to witness the 64-62 Loyola victory.
Watch parties were set up around campus to cheer on Loyola in its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1985. When senior forward Donte Ingram buried the game-winning triple with 0.3 seconds left, those watch parties erupted into scenes of hysteria.
— Nick Schultz (@NickSchultz_7) March 15, 2018
One spot that united fans to watch the game was Loyola’s sports pub, Ireland’s Pub 10, located in the basement of the Damen Student Center. Students, faculty and alumni packed into the tiny sports pub dressed in their maroon and gold. With it difficult to move around and find pockets of space, cramped-in Rambler fans crowded around the big screen, cheering at every good play and starting chants of “LUC” and “Defense” as if the team could hear their encouragement from the American Airlines Center in Dallas.
Speaking with fans at Ireland’s in the first half, it was clear they knew they were a part of something special, as many had never seen an atmosphere like this at Loyola.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been at a Loyola event that has this much spirit in it,” said junior student Melanie Minuche, 20. “Everyone on campus is super involved, like our classes got cancelled. Everyone’s out here having a good time.”
For Minuche, the event was bringing the student body together in a way it sorely lacked in the past, not just in sports.
“We’re creating more of a family atmosphere because before, that didn’t even exist, nobody would ever want to do anything on campus,” Minuche said.
Senior Catie Coghlan, 22, echoed much of the sentiment Minuche discussed, as she was shocked by the transformation of the normally silent sports pub.
“There are more people here than I’ve ever seen before in my life. I usually write papers here because it’s really quiet, and now its electric,” Coghlan said.
Coghlan, not a big basketball fan in her time at Loyola, represents a new faction of the student body who is now rallying around this basketball program with the rest of the school.
“Now they’re attracting people from different circles and different parts of campus who wouldn’t normally be there, that’s where I’d fall,” Coghlan said.
The Ramblers’ reemergence also gives Coghlan more ground in her family’s sports debates, as she has already engaged in feuds with her brother, who attends Xavier University, a No. 1 seed in the tournament field.
“It’s a cool family thing, too,” Coghlan said. “Like now I actually get to be competitive and trash talk a little bit.”
Students were not the only ones in attendance at Ireland’s for the watch party, as alumni went to their former campus to cheer on their alma mater. For 78-year-old, season ticket holder Leonard Caramela, a 1992 graduate, the NCAA tournament appearance had been a long time coming.
“It’s just exciting, I’ve waited for this for a long, long time,” Caramela, a fan of the Ramblers since he moved to Chicago in 1968, said at halftime. “I can remember in ‘85 when the team made it to the Sweet 16, then it’s been pretty drab since then for 33 years, but this is just like a dream come true.”
Caramela could feel the buzz in the air and knew it wasn’t something Loyola feels everyday.
“Oh yeah, for the first time in a long time [there is a buzz on campus]. I mean this is really great, this is the way it should be … It’s really great to see this and really great to take part in it as well,” Caramela said.
The buzz and excitement Caramela and the students were talking about in the first half transformed into a mood of nervous tension in the second half, especially as the Ramblers trailed for most of the final 20 minutes. At one point, the deficit rose as high as seven.
“The room definitely felt deflated … it was like ‘Oh wow, maybe we aren’t meant to be here,’” said fourth-year student Celine Wysgalla, 22, who bartended the entire game.
As the clock ticked down and Loyola mounted its comeback, the fans at Ireland’s became more and more glued to the screen. People cheered louder and with more determination in their voices. Chants of “LUC” or “Defense” that fizzled out in the first half remained thunderous for entire possessions.
When redshirt junior guard Clayton Custer nailed a three-pointer to tie the game with under two minutes remaining, the room reached a fever-pitch.
But, with 9.3 seconds left and Miami at the foul line with a 62-61 lead, reality began to set in at Ireland’s that Loyola might fall just short. Then, a Miami missed free throw and Loyola rebound led to a race up the court, ending with Ingram’s three-point launch from the tip of the half-court logo.
Nothing but net. Ramblers were 64-62 with 0.3 seconds remaining.
Back at Ireland’s, pandemonium ensued.
“When it was officially [over], everyone went wild. People were dancing on those tables, on these tables, all the tables in the bar … some people were crying,” Wysgalla said.
“There were people crowd surfing — well, one person was crowd surfing,” added third-year student, Andrew Volla, 25, who bartended the second half.
Ireland’s had gone from near-silent to chaos in an instant.
“There was so much tension and then all of a sudden you just hear everyone yelling positively,” senior student Maxim Belovol, 21, said. “I’m 5’2’’ so I couldn’t actually see the screen, but I knew that we had won.”
People only quieted down — thanks to a lot of shushing — to hear Sister Jean’s post-game interview, only to give up on their silence moments later to serenade the 98-year-old team chaplain with chants of “M-V-P.”
People then filed out of the pub to continue the celebration elsewhere. Throughout campus, screeches and cheers of “Go ‘blers!” could be heard for some time after the game’s end.
The Cinderella story was still intact, that buzz and excitement felt in Ireland’s was still ringing louder than ever. The Ramblers will play the University of Tennessee in the second round March 17 at 5:10 p.m on TNT.