Not to be.
The Illini were in search of their first Sweet 16 appearance since 2005 and were winners of 15 of their last 16, but they were no match for Loyola Chicago on Sunday. The No. 8 seed Ramblers controlled the contest from start to finish, stymying each and every Illinois comeback attempt to win 71-58 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
For 40 minutes, the Ramblers looked like a team that had been there before. They had, of course, reaching the Final Four just a few seasons ago. One can see what made Porter Moser’s program successful the last time it made the NCAA Tournament. The Ramblers play exceptional off-ball defense, disrupt passing lanes, and they held National Player of the Year Ayo Dosunmu virtually silent all day.
Illinois struggled to hold onto the ball with 9 first-half turnovers and missed quite a few easy bunnies too. All-American Kofi Cockburn started just 3-of-8 from the field with the Illini shooting 38.5%.
Big man Cameron Krutwig got it started for Loyola offensively and led all scorers with 8 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists at the half.
Almost the entire second half was a back and forth affair. Illinois would cut into Loyola’s lead a bit, but the Ramblers always had a response. The Illini got it as close as 6, but never cut it to one possession.
Moser’s squad is patient in the halfcourt and excelled at keeping Illinois’ guards from getting out and running in transition. But it’s hard to push the ball when you’re taking the ball out from under the hoop every time down the floor.
It’s an unfortunate end to what had been a historic season for the Orange and Blue. Dosunmu and Cockburn likely played their last games as Illini, but will almost certainly see their numbers raised at State Farm Center again soon.
- Kofi Cockburn: 21 points, 9 rebounds
- Andre Curbelo: 9 points, 4 rebounds, 7 assists
- Ayo Dosunmu: 9 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists
- Cameron Krutwig: 19 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists
- Lucas Williamson: 14 points, 2 rebounds
- Marquise Kennedy: 14 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist
That’s it. We’ll see y’all next year.