ST. LOUIS – Cam Krutwig admits his knowledge of Loyola basketball was fairly limited before Ramblers coach Porter Moser and his staff put on their full-court press a couple of years ago.
Loyola was getting better, but the prospect of playing in an NCAA tournament seemed like a longshot.
“When I took my official visit with Coach Moser and the staff, they’re great guys, and they started talking to be about moments like this,” said Krutwig, a 6-foot-9 freshman. “They said, ‘You come here, we’ll develop you and have moments like this.’ They had a vision for me, I decided to go there and obviously it’s paid off.”
Krutwig, a Jacobs graduate and the 2017 Northwest Herald Player of the Year, could not be happier with his choice. He capped the best week of his basketball career celebrating the Missouri Valley Conference tournament championship with the Ramblers.
Loyola’s 65-49 victory over Illinois State in the title game Sunday in front of 8,056 fans at Scottrade Center assured the Ramblers will play in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1985.
One Ramblers’ fan held up a sign that read: “Party Like It’s 1985.”
Jerry Harkness, the star of Loyola’s 1963 NCAA championship team, was on hand to present the Ramblers with their trophy.
Krutwig was asked if the title represented a new era for Loyola.
“I think so,” he said. “1985’s the last time we made it. We’re not just going there to go there. We’re going there to win some games.”
After winning tight games over Northern Iowa on Friday and Bradley on Saturday, Loyola (28-5) provided itself more breathing room Sunday, hitting 9 of 24 on 3-point shots and limiting the Redbirds (18-15) to 31.8 percent shooting from the field.
Guard Ben Richardson hit a 3 in the second half as the Ramblers were widening their lead and stuck out his tongue at Krutwig while running down the court.
Forward Donte Ingram, the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, hit his fourth 3 of the game with 4:17 remaining and smiled at press row, knowing what was at hand.
Eventually, in the final minute, Moser replaced the starters, one-by-one, and they each hugged their coach on the way to the bench.
Moser remembered when he took over seven years ago, and Loyola had one Chicago-area player. He also recalled a pivotal step for the program when it won the 2015 College Basketball Invitational championship.
Although that tournament might not seem like much to others, Moser called that title a watershed moment.
“That was the benefit of playing in the postseason,” Moser said. “We won, and I knew they wanted more. They got a taste of it.”
The Ramblers won 24 games that year and have won 85 over their past four seasons.
Krutwig, who scored 11 points and grabbed nine rebounds, has become a huge part of it. He was named to the All-MVC third team and received the MVC Newcomer of the Year award earlier in the week.
“Today, all his dreams came true,” said Kevin Krutwig, Cam’s father. “To happen in his first year, with all the hard work Cam and those guys put in is phenomenal. You couldn’t ask for a better experience than going to Loyola. It’s been great.”
Cooper Schwartz, Krutwig’s teammate on Jacobs Class 4A sectional championship team last season, was there with his father Dean, both wearing Loyola shirts.
“It’s so cool, Cam’s going to the Big Dance,” Schwartz said. “With his abilities, he’s been able to prove himself as a worthy player for this team. They were lacking a big man, and Cam brings that traditional size. He had a great game. I thank Cam for allowing us to have this experience.”
Krutwig is doing the same things he did so well at Jacobs – scoring inside, pounding the boards, defending the rim – but this year he’s doing it at the highest level.
Loyola started the season 9-0 and beat Florida, ranked No. 5 at the time, to serve notice it bore watching. Then, the Ramblers rolled to the MVC regular-season title.
They came to St. Louis with only one befitting finish in mind.
“If we didn’t win a game in this tournament, we probably weren’t going to make the [NCAA] tournament,” Krutwig said. “We left Chicago thinking ‘Let’s just win all three, and they can’t keep us out.’ We did. It’s a great goal to accomplish, and I just want to keep it going.”