Three years ago, senior guard Lucas Williamson played 24 minutes and scored five points in the first round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament. This year, he led the team with 21 points in 37 minutes of game time to help the Loyola men’s basketball team beat Georgia Institute of Technology 71-60.
Despite having a better shooting percentage than Loyola, Georgia Tech found itself in foul trouble, putting the Ramblers in the bonus during both halves. The Ramblers converted a 66.7 percent clip from the charity stripe and the 10 points coming from free throws helped toward the win.
Loyola’s success from the free throw line coupled with 40.7 percent three-point shooting and 13 offensive boards allowed the Ramblers to secure the win against No. 9-seeded Georgia Tech.
Three other Ramblers scored in double digits — redshirt sophomore guard Braden Norris and senior center Cameron Krutwig and guard Keith Clemons added 16, 12 and 10 respectively.
“I’ve played in this tournament before and I’m playing with people that this is their first time,” Williamson said. “We came out and we were a little shaky so I knew I wanted to step up as a leader and give my team confidence. That’s what I did early and I just rode the hot hand the rest of the game.”
The Yellow Jackets started off quickly with a jump shot from senior guard Jose Alvarado. Williamson immediately followed up with a three-point shot of his own, but the Ramblers weren’t able to score again for another 5:45 minutes.
After Loyola trailed for a majority of the first half, Krutwig hit a layup to take the Ramblers’ first lead of the game with just 2:47 before halftime. Krutwig’s bucket was part of an 11-0 run the Ramblers had in just over two minutes near the end of the half, but Georgia Tech sophomore forward Rodney Howard ended the Yellow Jackets’ scoring drought.
“I think that’s when we finally settled in,” Williamson said. “Everybody is excited to play in March Madness. I was just trying to tell my teammates to ‘Settle down. Embrace the moment but at the end of the day we’re playing a game we’ve been playing our entire lives.’”
Loyola sophomore guard Marquise Kennedy ended the half with a turnaround jumper giving the Ramblers a 30-25 lead heading into the break.
In the first half, Georgia Tech’s defense held Loyola to 48 percent shooting from the field and 33.3 percent from beyond the arc. The Yellow Jackets forced six turnovers and translated those into seven points.
Williamson was a bright spot in Loyola’s otherwise lackluster offense in the first half. The Chicago native scored 10 points on 4-for-6 shooting, with two of his shots coming from three-point territory. Williamson and Norris were the only Ramblers to score from downtown in the half.
Redshirt senior forward Aher Uguak led Loyola in the first half with three rebounds, as the team out-rebounded Georgia Tech 13-8. While the Yellow Jackets didn’t grab a single offensive rebound, five of Loyola’s 13 were offensive boards.
Although Georgia Tech led for most of the first half, it was a different story in the second. Loyola held onto the lead for all but 1:11 of the second half.
The Yellow Jackets took the lead with 11:55 to go, but Loyola took back control of the game on an 11-0 run sparked by Clemons. However, Georgia Tech managed to stay within striking distance of the Ramblers until Loyola extended its lead to 10 points with 2:46 remaining in the game.
While the Yellow Jackets’ defense held Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year Krutwig to only two points in the second half, the Ramblers had a boost from Norris and Clemons. The pair combined for 22 points of Loyola’s 41 in the second half.
As a team Loyola only shot at a 47.2 percent over game, compared to Georgia Tech’s 57.4 percent. But the Ramblers were able to find success in transition — they forced 12 turnovers on the Yellow Jackets, scoring a total of 14 points.
Loyola also outrebounded the Atlantic Coast Conference Champions 30-17. Thirteen of the Ramblers’ rebounds were offensive boards, while Georgia Tech managed just one.
Despite only scoring four points Uguak had the second most rebounds on the team. Loyola head coach Porter Moser said Uguak’s rebounds were a huge part of Loyola’s win.
“[Aher Uguak] gives you that physical presence,” Moser said. “He can switch. He’s a really good defender but he has that athleticism to get rebounds above the rim. He’s been so key for us all year.”
With the win, Loyola advances to play the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the second round March 21. Time and location for the matchup have yet to be announced.