ATLANTA – Loyola is headed to the Final Four as an 11 seed.
The Ramblers became the first team to punch their ticket to the national semifinals Saturday at Atlanta’s Philips Arena with a 78-62 win over No. 9 Kansas State.
“To be honest with you, after Selection Sunday, we didn’t say, ‘Hey, let’s go to the Final Four,’ ” Loyola coach Porter Moser said. “We said, ‘What do we got to do to beat Miami?’ And then it was the next game, and then it was the next game. These guys have done an amazing job on laser-like focus on what’s right in front of them instead of skipping steps.”
The Ramblers (32-5) advance to the Final Four next weekend in San Antonio, Texas, where they will face Michigan.
Loyola dominated offensively, shooting 57 percent from the field, compared with Kansas State, which only shot 35 percent.
The Wildcats entered Saturday’s matchup having limited their past three opponents to 26.4 percent from 3-point range, including holding Kentucky to 3 of 12 in Thursday’s Sweet Sixteen win.
But with the hot hand of senior guard Ben Richardson, who was voted the Most Outstanding Player on the South Region All-Tournament Team, Loyola sank 9 of 18 3-point attempts.
The senior from Overland Park, Kansas, scored a team-high 23 points and shot 7 of 10 from the field and 6 of 7 from beyond the arc.
“I was in a rhythm, and they were finding me and so I just kept taking shots,” Richardson said. “They went down, and it was a big-time game, the biggest game of my life.”
Richardson ignited the Ramblers’ offense against their Big 12 opponent. The senior shut down a 10-0 Wildcat run with his sixth 3-pointer of the night with less than five minutes on the clock.
“We put on the board [that we needed] toughness and discipline, and they were tougher than us from the get-go,” Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said. “They were physical, very disciplined, and then Ben Richardson stepped up and had his shining moment, his magic game, and that’s what you need.”
Freshman Cameron Krutwig, who showed much more confidence and put up better numbers than he did against Nevada on Thursday, also proved vital in the Ramblers’ first Elite Eight appearance in 33 years on both sides of the floor.
Krutwig only played 13 minutes against Nevada, but in his first 13 minutes on the floor against Kansas State, he shot 3 of 6 from the field and had five rebounds, proving why Moser trusted him to start at center.
“Kansas State played more of a five-man who doesn’t venture off into the unknown and to the 3-point line,” Krutwig said. “The matchups against Nevada just weren’t there for me. … The matchups are definitely key with [Kansas State], but we have a lot of guys who are versatile and can guard guards and bigs, so I think that’s why it’s really hard to try and match us.”
Krutwig finished Saturday’s game with nine points and seven rebounds.
While most attention deservedly went to Loyola’s offense, the Ramblers kept the defense on Kansas State from the opening trip.
The Wildcats shot only 23 of 66 from the field and 6 of 26 from 3-point range. Loyola held Kansas State to two points in the final 5:55 of the first half.
“[Kansas State] came out really noisy on defense,” Moser said. “They were guarding right in front of us, and normally you’ll hear our bench yelling everything, and they were yelling switches; they were yelling different things.
“I think they knew right away that our defense was dictating our offense, and just the confidence was just growing, moving and spacing the ball, because they knew they were getting stops.”
With the win, Loyola became the first No. 11 seed to advance to the Final Four since VCU in 2011.