Last year’s season-ending loss stung. This year’s ripped your heart out.
Despite leading by 18 points in the second half of the Missouri Valley Conference men’s basketball tournament quarterfinals, the Loyola men’s basketball team saw its season come to an abrupt end in a 74-73 overtime loss to Valparaiso University March 6.
It’s the second straight year the Ramblers were bounced from the tournament early, failing to restore the March magic they found in 2018 when they made it to the Final Four. After No. 1-seeded University of Northern Iowa was bounced earlier in the day, it looked as though Arch Madness was Loyola’s for the taking.
Then, the free throws banked off the rim 13 times. The shots didn’t fall when they needed to fall. The defense didn’t make stops when it needed to make stops.
What should’ve been a jubilant locker room was eerily quiet.
Junior walk-on forward Will Alcock sat in the corner, his right index finger on the side of his head as he gazed at the floor. Fellow walk-on Jake Baughman was right next to him with a towel over his head, hunched over in his chair. At one point, a player threw his shoe in anger.
Junior guard Lucas Williamson was sitting in the front row of chairs in the middle of the room with his right hand on his cheek, staring in disbelief over what had just happened.
“It’s not good,” Williamson said of the mood in the 15 minutes after the final buzzer. “Nobody’s happy. Nobody wanted this ending. It’s just bad.”
Eighteen freaking points. All the Ramblers had to do was play their game. They had to run that high-powered offense around a Valparaiso team that went down to the wire with the University of Evansville just 24 hours earlier. They were in the driver’s seat.
They knew it, too.
“It’s really tough to put into words how I’m feeling right now,” said first-year guard Paxson Wojcik, who played nine minutes in his first career Arch Madness game. “It’s gonna hurt for a while, that’s for sure. … Just to see it end this way really hurts. That’s all I got.”
To say the Ramblers weren’t expected to lose to Valparaiso would be an understatement. Not only were they a 7.5-point favorite, but it’s only the second time in tournament history a No. 2 seed lost in the quarterfinals.
It was an ending no one envisioned. But it especially hit hard for Bruno Skokna, the Ramblers’ lone senior.
Skokna didn’t play a minute of his final collegiate game, watching it entirely from the middle of the Loyola bench. He was the only four-year member of the team and had amassed 91 wins over that span.
He could’ve — and, frankly, should’ve — had at least one more. Instead, he received hugs in the locker room because he’d played his final game in maroon and gold. Although he didn’t play as much this season, he was still one of the most beloved players on the roster by both his teammates and fans.
Now, he’s left looking for his next opportunity and the rest of the team has to look to what’s next. What exactly is that, though?
“Faces change, but the expectations don’t,” said junior center Cameron Krutwig. “It’s fortunate for us because we don’t have that many faces changing [next season], so everyone’s got another year under their belt.”
As bright as the future looks, it’s going to take time for the pain to subside. This team looked poised for another dance in the NCAA Tournament after exceeding outside expectations. Now, it enters its longest offseason in three years.
Oh, what could’ve been.