Loyola Chicago's magical run continues with another late game-winner

It wasn’t quite as clean. Wasn’t quite as late. Wasn’t quite as dramatic. But Loyola Chicago’s second last-minute game-winner and second upset in three days was every bit as magical.

Donte Ingram’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer against Miami had captured the imagination of college basketball on Thursday afternoon. Around 50 hours later, Ingram’s teammate, Clayton Custer, drove at the opposite end of the American Airlines Center floor in Dallas. He pulled up to the right of the free throw line. He elevated. And after four caroms off rim or backboard, he sunk the shot that sunk third-seeded Tennessee.

More importantly, the junior guard sent 11th-seeded Loyola to the Sweet 16.

The Ramblers hadn’t been to the Big Dance in 33 years, so have understandably become one of the stories of March. Their 98-year-old team chaplain, Sister Jean, has become one of the darlings of March.

But over 80 minutes of basketball, they’ve done more than apply for the role of Cinderella. In a way, they’ve proven they’re too good for it. They aren’t plucky underdogs. They’ve introduced themselves to the tournament as a darn good basketball team that might not stop at two upsets.

They have no transcendent star, other than their lovable nun. But they have balance, and diversity, and toughness, and discipline, and a laundry list of other attributes you’d associate with the best teams in college hoops.

They were all on display Saturday against the favored Volunteers. They were especially noticeable after the Vols jumped out to a 15-6 lead, their top-five defense looking overwhelming.

But Loyola was unfazed. The Ramblers defended and rebounded above their weight. They moved the ball as well as any team in the tournament has so far. They assisted on 17 of their 22 made field goals, and knocked down 8 of 20 tries from beyond the arc.

The Loyola Chicago Ramblers celebrate with junior guard Clayton Custer after his game-winning shot against Tennessee in the NCAA tournament. (Getty)
The Loyola Chicago Ramblers celebrate with junior guard Clayton Custer after his game-winning shot against Tennessee in the NCAA tournament. (Getty)

They are an eclectic crew, hailing from inner-city Chicago, from suburban and rural Midwestern towns, and from Europe. They share the ball and the spotlight, each playing to his own strengths. They’re well-coached by Porter Moser, a self-described “Catholic kid from Chicago” who went just 6-23 against Division I opposition in his first season, 2011-12.

Six years later, his Ramblers are ridiculing distinctions between mid-majors and high-majors. They went toe-to-toe with Tennessee. They held the lead for almost the entirety of the second half, until Grant Williams put the Vols ahead with a three-point play with 20.1 on the clock.

But somehow, for some reason, Loyola, and specifically Custer, had curried favor with that one Dallas rim. “It makes all those hours in the gym worth it,” Custer said after the game.

And with that, he was off to Atlanta, to a South regional that all of a sudden looks wide open. Three of the top-four seeds have fallen. No. 2 Cincinnati has seventh-seeded Nevada on Sunday.

Loyola will get the winner of that game in a Sweet 16 showdown. And it will have every chance to win it. But first, after yet another late game-winner, it’ll have a few days to let the magic of March sink in.

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Henry Bushnell covers soccer and college basketball for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.

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