DALLAS (AP) — Loyola-Chicago’s Sweet 16 dreams bounced on the front of the rim, lightly touched the backboard, and rattled a couple times before slipping through the net.
Another prayer answered in the waning seconds, and now Sister Jean’s Ramblers are heading to Atlanta.
Clayton Custer’s jumper got that friendly bounce with 3.6 seconds left, and 11th-seeded Loyola beat Tennessee 63-62 in a South Region second-round game Saturday night.
Custer’s winner came two days after Donte Ingram’s buzzer-beating 3 from the March Madness logo against Miami, surely to the delight of Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, the team chaplain and occasional coach, watching from her wheelchair on a platform near the main TV cameras.
“The only thing I can say, glory to God for that one,” Custer said. “The ball bounced on the rim and I got a good bounce.”
The Ramblers were the long-shot story of the first round — until 16th-seed UMBC beat No. 1 Virginia to pull off the biggest upset in NCAA Tournament history. That’ll be hard for the Ramblers (30-5) to top, but they’re working on it.
The Missouri Valley champions broke the school record for wins set by the 1963 NCAA championship team. The small Catholic college in the heart of Chicago will play the Cincinnati-Nevada winner in the regional semifinals Thursday in Atlanta.
“Of course,” Schmidt said when asked if she’ll be with the team.
No. 3 seed Tennessee (26-7) took its only lead of the second half on a three-point play by Grant Williams with 20 seconds remaining.
After Loyola almost lost the ball on an out-of-bounds call confirmed on replay, Custer took the inbounds pass with 10 seconds left, dribbled left and then right, pulled up and let go of the winner.
The Vols’ Jordan Bone got a decent look at last-gasp 3, but it bounced away, and Custer threw the ball off the scoreboard high above the court as he was mobbed by teammates in the same spot that the Ramblers celebrated Ingram’s dramatic winner.
“I’ve seen him make one, two dribble, one-two pull-up probably a million times,” said Ben Richardson, who won two high school state championships with Custer in Kansas and has been his teammate since third grade. “He makes it like a 98 percent clip.”
The Ramblers fell behind 15-6 in less than 5 minutes before the Volunteers missed their next nine shots and fell behind for the first time on Custer’s 3-pointer with 6 minutes left in the first half.
Admiral Schofield scored 11 of those first 15 Tennessee points but didn’t score again until a 3 nearly 32 minutes later that started a rally from a 10-point deficit in the final 4 minutes by the SEC regular-season co-champions.
Tennessee coach Rick Barnes lost at American Airlines Center, home of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, for the first time in six NCAA games. The first four wins were during his 17 seasons leading the Texas Longhorns.
“It’s always a tough way to lose a basketball game, buzzer-beaters,” Barnes said. “Had the ball with a chance to tie or go ahead and we did it. They had the ball with a chance to win, and they did it.”
Schmidt, a high school basketball player in San Francisco in the 1930s who leads the pregame prayer and gives the players feedback after, wasn’t the only one pulling hard for Loyola.
Late-arriving fans waiting for crowd favorite Texas Tech in the late game joined the raucous Ramblers supporters wearing maroon-and-gold scarfs and standing almost the entire game in sections across the court from their team’s bench.
“It’s great to get some exposure for our school and our fans,” Richardson said. “And on the national stage, we know there’s so many loyal fans that have come up to us, that have been fans since ‘63, the national championship team, and they’re so proud of us.”
Aundre Jackson, who grew up in the Dallas area, led Loyola with 16 points, and Custer had 10. Schofield scored 14 for Tennessee.
∫ BIG PICTURE: Loyola-Chicago: A special run continues and the Ramblers might not be one-year wonders. Several key players will be back, including Custer, fellow junior guard Marques Townes and freshman center Cameron Krutwig. The Ramblers probably won’t have to wait another 33 years this time.
Tennessee: Letting a quick lead get away will hurt for the Vols, although the rally is a boost for a starting lineup with no seniors. It was the first NCAA trip in three seasons at Tennessee for Barnes, who took the Longhorns 16 times in 17 years.
∫ UP NEXT: Loyola-Chicago is headed to the round of 16 for the first time since 1985, when it lost to Patrick Ewing and Georgetown. That was also the last time the Ramblers made the NCAA Tournament.
Kentucky 95, Buffalo 75
BOISE, Idaho — It’ll take more than experience, grit and a double-digit dream to knock these kids from Kentucky out of the NCAA Tournament.
Namely, it’ll take someone to slow down Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and his fellow freshmen, who are zeroing in on the finer points of the John Calipari Hoop School at precisely the right time.
Kentucky put an end to any upset talk on its watch Saturday, getting 27 points, six rebounds and six assists from Gilgeous-Alexander in a 95-75 pullaway from scrappy, veteran 13th-seeded Buffalo.
Gilgeous-Alexander went 10 for 12 and made both of his 3-point attempts to send fifth-seeded Kentucky (26-10) to the Sweet 16 for the second straight season.
“We are inexperienced and all that stuff,” Calipari said. “But I’ve got good players.”
Coming into the day, the basketball world was still reverberating from Maryland-Baltimore County’s 16 vs. 1 stunner over Virginia the night before. Villanova and Duke both rolled in their games early; the evening slate started with Kentucky, and the Wildcats, with their all-freshman starting lineup, trailed only once: 2-0.
“We hear about those upsets,” said Wenyen Gabriel, one of Kentucky’s rare sophomores, who finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds. “It just tells us to lock in some more, and focus.”
This didn’t turn into a runaway until the last 7 minutes.
Buffalo (27-9), which got here with a 21-point blowout over No. 4 Arizona, twice trimmed a double-digit lead to five midway through the second half.
Gilgeous-Alexander answered both times — once with a 3-pointer to extend the lead back to eight, then again a few minutes later with a three-point play that started a 12-2 run and put the game away.
“We didn’t have an answer for him,” Bulls coach Nate Oats said. “He was a major problem for us defensively.”
Not the only one.
Hamidou Diallo also went off — going 9 for 12 and scoring all but four of his 22 points in the second half while the Wildcats were putting it on cruise.
The team that went 0 for 6 from 3-point range Thursday in its win over Davidson, snapping a record streak of 1,047 games with at least one 3, went 7 for 15 in this one. Buffalo also made seven — but it took 31 attempts.
“There’s a reason three of those guys are supposed to go in the first round, and a couple more are going to be pros,” Oats said of Kentucky’s NBA draft prospects. “Cal’s got them playing really well at the right time of year.”
The Wildcats have won nine of 10 since snapping a four-game losing streak in February.
And about that UMBC win — it could impact Kentucky more than you know. When Tennessee lost a one-point game to Loyola-Chicago shortly after Kentucky wrapped up Saturday, the Wildcats found themselves seeded behind only No. 2 Cincinnati in the South. There’s a possibility they could make the Final Four without having to face even one single-digit seed.
“Coach has been telling us this whole week that you never know what can happen in this tournament,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “We don’t focus on any other team. We just try to get better every game and put it on the next opponent.”
Villanova 81, Alabama 58
PITTSBURGH — Mikal Bridges scored 23 points, helping No. 1 seed Villanova to an impressive victory.
The Wildcats (32-4) are in the Sweet 16 for the first time since they won the 2016 national championship. Bridges, Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth — and yes, The Big Ragu — look every bit the favorite to make it two in three years.
Villanova plays Friday in Boston against the Marshall-West Virginia winner.
Collin Sexton led Alabama (20-16) with 17 points on 7-of-14 shooting. The star guard has to decide if he’ll join the ranks of the one-and-done freshman.
Texas Tech 69, Florida 66
DALLAS — Keenan Evans made a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 2 1/2 minutes left, sending Texas Tech to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2005.
Evans finished with 22 points, and Zhaire Smith had 18 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. The third-seeded Red Raiders (26-9) will face Purdue or Butler next Friday night in Boston.
Jalen Hudson scored 23 points for Florida (21-13). Egor Koulechov had 12 points, and Chris Chiozza finished with 11.
Kansas 83, Seton Hall 79
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Malik Newman scored 28 points, Udoka Azubuike stood toe-to-toe with Seton Hall’s bruising Angel Delgado, and No. 1 seed Kansas advanced to its third consecutive Sweet 16.
Svi Mykhailiuk added 16 points and Lagerald Vick had 13 for the Jayhawks (29-7), who converted on every crucial play down the stretch to advance to the semifinals of the Midwest Region.
They’ll take on the winner of Sunday’s game between Auburn and Clemson in Omaha, Nebraska.
Delgado finished with 24 points and 23 rebounds in a virtuoso effort for the No. 8 seed Pirates (22-11), who snapped a four-game NCAA Tournament skid in the opening round.
Khadeen Carrington finished with 28 points, many of them on 3-pointers in the closing minutes, and Myles Powell added 14 as the pair of guards tried in vain to keep Seton Hall alive.
Duke 87, Rhode Island 62
PITTSBURGH — Marvin Bagley had 22 points and nine rebounds, leading Duke to its 26th trip to the Sweet 16.
It was Mike Krzyzewski’s 1,099th victory, breaking a tie with late Tennessee women’s coach Pat Summitt for the most wins by a basketball coach in NCAA history.
Duke shot 57 percent (29 of 51) from the floor and finished with 20 assists. The Blue Devils (28-7) will play either Michigan State or Syracuse in the Midwest Region semifinals in Omaha, Nebraska next Friday.
E.C. Matthews led Rhode Island (26-8) with 21 points but the Rams looked confounded at times by Duke’s much improved zone defense. A weakness during a mini-swoon in late January, the Blue Devils are no longer treating defense like a chore they’re forced to complete before getting the ball back in their hands.
Gonzaga 90, Ohio State 84
BOISE, Idaho — Zach Norvell Jr. had 28 points, Rui Hachimura added 25 and Gonzaga reached the Sweet 16 for the fourth straight season.
Norvell hit the late tiebreaking 3-pointer against UNC-Greensboro in the opening round to help the Zags (32-4) advance. The confident freshman made 6 of 11 from beyond the arc against Ohio State.
The Bulldogs jumped out to a big early lead, withstood a second-half Ohio State charge and made the big plays down the stretch to earn a spot in the West Region semifinals against the Xavier-Florida State winner in Los Angeles.
The resilient-all-season Buckeyes (25-9) rallied from an abysmal start and an 11-point halftime deficit to take a brief second-half lead before Gonzaga went on an 11-0 run to snatch it back. Keita Bates-Diop had 28 points for Ohio State, and Kam Williams finished with 19.