In only the third NCAA Tournament matchup of two teams from the state of Illinois, the Loyola Ramblers came out on top Sunday, beating the Illinois Fighting Illini in Indianapolis.
The Ramblers will now head to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2018, while Illinois sees a Big Ten-winning season come to an end at the hands of the Missouri Valley Conference champions.
Cameron Krutwig, who was on Loyola’s Final Four squad in 2018, scored 19 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and dished out five assists in the upset victory. He also had three steals, leading a huge push that forced Illinois into 17 turnovers in the contest.
The Ramblers jumped out to an early lead in the game, with their frenetic defense forcing a slew of Illinois turnovers in the early going. Krutwig was on fire to start the game in the paint, and Braden Norris knocked down a three-pointer in transition to put Loyola up by seven points in the early going.
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The Loyola defense, one of the top groups in the entire country, continued to thrive in the closing stages of the first half, holding Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn to a 3-of-10 performance from the field in the first half.
Illinois did get a few late buckets, but Loyola still led by nine points at the intermission.
The Illini were able to get within six points four minutes into the second half on a lay-up by Cockburn, but the Ramblers continued to put the pressure on. Norris made a free throw and Kennedy popped in a lay-up to build the Loyola lead back up to nine points, and after Jacob Huston made a free throw with 11 minutes to go, Loyola led by 13 points over a stunned Illinois squad.
Illinois couldn't get any closer than six points through most of the second half, with the Loyola offense continuing to score virtually at will. Lucas Williamson had a strong second half, and Krutwig continued to shine bright, answering every Illinois push with one of their own.
During one stretch late in the second half, Illinois finally started to get into a rhythm offensively, but Loyola answered by making five-of-six shots and keeping their lead at nine points with three minutes to go in the contest.
Illinois refused to go quietly, with Andre Curbelo drawing a charge at one end of the floor and then making a short jumper at the other end to trim the lead to seven points with 1:36 remaining in the game.
Unfortunately for the Illini it was a case of too little, too late, and they had to watch as Loyola celebrated a berth in the Sweet 16.
The Ramblers will take on the winner of the Oklahoma State-Oregon State next week. The time of the game is yet to be determined.