This week is a historic one for Loyola men’s basketball.
Two years ago, Rambler fans weren’t spread across the country and practicing social distancing. Instead, they were crammed in the Damen Student Center and State Farm Arena — which was known as Phillips Arena in 2018 — in Atlanta watching the Loyola men’s basketball team make history and advance to the Final Four.
That Final Four appearance came almost exactly 55 years after the Ramblers did something no other school in Illinois has accomplished: they won a national championship.
March 23, 1963: The Ramblers Win it All
On March 23, 1963, the Ramblers made history by taking home their first and only NCAA Tournament championship. Led by head coach George Ireland, Loyola defeated the two-time defending champion University of Cincinnati 60-58 in overtime.
In this championship game, the Ramblers made history by starting four African American players, while the Bearcats started three. This was the first time in tournament history that a majority of African Americans played in the championship game.
Cincinnati led the game 29-21 at halftime, but Loyola came back to tie it in the second half to force overtime. In the extra period, the two teams remained tied until Ramblers forward Vic Rouse tipped in the game-winning shot with one second left. Loyola remains the only Illinois Division I team to win the national championship.
The surviving members of this history-defining Loyola team were honored by President Barack Obama in 2013 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of their championship win.
March 22, 2018: Loyola Wins Another Thriller
No. 11 seed Loyola (31-5, 15-3) defeated No. 7 seed University of Nevada 69-68 March 22, 2018 to advance to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1963, when it won the national championship.
“It’s been a season-long journey … of believing that we can win,” head coach Porter Moser said. “These guys have found ways to win. We focus in on the process of the game and things we’ve got to do in the game.”
Redshirt junior guard Marques Townes led the Ramblers with 18 points, including the game-winning three-pointer with seven seconds left. Townes said he’ll never forget hitting that final shot.
“I’ll probably remember it for the rest of my life,” Townes said. “I mean, it doesn’t really get any better than that. [Redshirt junior guard] Clay [Custer] made a great play, got downhill [and] kicked me to the corner. The [defender] came flying at me. I just gave him a little shot fake, and I shot it and it went in … that’s something you dream about.”
Townes scored 15 points over two games to start the tournament – seven points against University of Miami and eight points against University of Tennessee. Moser said he wasn’t surprised Townes had a big night on such a big stage.
“I didn’t look at it as Marques being quiet,” Moser said. “He was a warrior. He made warrior plays that we see a lot on the tape … I don’t think any one of our coaches looked at it and said [he was] quiet tonight.”
March 24, 2018: Cinderella Dances to San Antonio
The Ramblers then headed to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1963 after defeating No. 9 seed Kansas State University 78-62 in Atlanta March 24, 2018 behind senior guard Ben Richardson’s career-high 23 points.
“People asked me out there, ‘Did you ever think you were going to the Final Four?’” head coach Porter Moser said. “To be honest with you, after Selection Sunday, we didn’t say, ‘Hey, let’s go to the Final Four.’ We said, ‘What do we [have] to do to beat Miami?’ … These guys have done an amazing job on [staying] laser-like [focused] on what’s right in front of them instead of skipping steps.”
The Ramblers came out firing on all cylinders, shooting 55.6 percent (15-for-27) in the first half to take a 36-24 lead into the break. Loyola shot 60 percent (12-for-20) in the second half to seal the victory.
In addition to his 23 points, Richardson grabbed six rebounds and dished four assists in the effort. He was averaging 6.4 ppg, 2.9 rpg and 3.9 assists per game coming in.
“I felt like I was in a rhythm … I got a good look to start the game and that kind of started me off,” Richardson said. “Then I got a contested one and then after that I was really in a rhythm. The rim [started] to look a little bigger.”
Redshirt junior guard Marques Townes added 13 points to the effort while senior forward Donte Ingram had 12 points and eight rebounds.