The first Thursday of the NCAA tournament is my favorite sports day of the year. Thirteen straight hours of thrilling basketball!
But every year, about three hours in, there’s a moment when I start to worry. What if this thing I’ve waited all year for isn’t so great? What if the top seeds all win? What if these amateur basketball players aren’t very good, and the games are boring and filled with missed shots? What if my bracket busts?
And then, every year, March Madness delivers. This year, at 5:20 p.m. ET, about five hours and five minutes after the first game of the tourney’s opening tip, we got our first perfect March Madness moment: Donte Ingram’s buzzer-beater to give no. 11 seeded Loyola-Chicago a 64–62 win over no. 6 seed Miami. Here are all the ways it was perfect.
1. It Was an Unbelievable, Nonsensical Buzzer-Beater
Loyola-Chicago’s hope was all but extinguished. The Ramblers kept getting chances against the supposedly better team from the bigger conference, but they kept missing them. Marques Townes had a chance to tie the game at 62 when he attempted a pair of free throws with 26 seconds remaining; he missed the front end, and Loyola trailed by one. The Ramblers forced an improbable turnover just three seconds later, but Townes missed a layup. Cameron Krutwig corralled a rebound, but encountered a ton of contact as he went up with a putback and missed his shot with no foul. Down 60–59, Loyola had to foul Miami’s leading scorer, Lonnie Walker IV, and pray for the best.
And then this happened:
LOYOLO pic.twitter.com/CkcEfulFV9— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 15, 2018
This was SO DUMB. Loyola had a timeout, and needed only two points to win the game. So instead of setting up a play, or trying to get a good shot, the Ramblers sprinted upcourt and settled for a 30-footer.
Look at where Ingram shot this from. He’s literally standing on the midcourt logo, shooting on top of an image of a bracket to advance his team deeper into the bracket.
The Ramblers’ final play was frantic and ill-advised — and it ended up being perfect.
2. It Provided Sad Pictures of the Team That Was Favored …
Yup, plenty of those:
I don’t think Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga is excited for the upcoming episode of Impractical Jokers.
when they tell you your tweets are bad pic.twitter.com/0XhNkadg5l— Matt Brown (@MattSBN) March 15, 2018
3. … And Ecstatic Images of Fans Who Never Thought They Would Win
Thanks to Loyola-Chicago’s color scheme and liberal scarf distribution policies, all Ramblers fans look like they’re watching quidditch.
Harry got the snitch pic.twitter.com/07XX8AWiea— Rodger Sherman (@rodger_sherman) March 15, 2018
And while all Gryffindor fans are good, there is one Loyola fan who stands out: Sister Jean, the team’s 98-year-old chaplain.
At 98 years old, Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt remains @RamblersMBB's biggest fan. Serving as Loyola-Chicago's team chaplain, she inspires the team every day with her passion for people and basketball. pic.twitter.com/PdUWsJRLxC— March Madness TV (@MarchMadnessTV) March 14, 2018
Yes, she made it to Dallas for the game.
I hope I can speak as eloquently at 98 years old like “Sister Jean” is doing Live on Tru TV right now #LoyolaChicago pic.twitter.com/JrEPBzFT4S— Eric Winter (@elwinter) March 15, 2018
Look at that smile. Keep winning for Sister Jean, Ramblers.
4. It Brings Up a Great Story
There’s so much to love about the Ramblers. For starters, they’re named “the Ramblers,” so every time they advance in the tournament, you can blast “Ramble On” by Led Zeppelin as loud as your speakers will allow. (The Rambler, so you know, is a wolf. Until 1990, the mascot was a homeless person. I’m not making this up. His name was “Bo Rambler,” and “Bo” was short for “hobo.”)
Anyway: The Ramblers were once a big deal in basketball. They won the 1963 NCAA tournament, a run that featured the “Game of Change” against Mississippi State. That Ramblers squad started four black players, and the Mississippi governor at the time forbade the Bulldogs from playing against integrated teams. But Mississippi State disobeyed the state government to play Loyola-Chicago — 55 years ago today. Mississippi State remembered:
Wow! It’s only fitting @RamblersMBB won in dramatic fashion on this important date in history. Congrats. #NCAATournament #HailState #gameofchange— MSU Men's Basketball (@HailStateMBK) March 15, 2018
Loyola-Chicago hadn’t made the NCAA tournament since 1985. One might have imagined that streak would continue after the Ramblers realigned from the not-so-great Horizon League to the competitive Missouri Valley Conference in 2013, but head coach Porter Moser has turned the program around. That’s thanks in part to Iowa State transfer Clayton Custer, who won conference player of the year honors in his first season with the team. He didn’t hit the big shot Thursday, but was Loyola’s best player, finishing with 14 points and four assists.
Thirty-three years is a long time between tourney appearances. To end that drought in any capacity is neat, but to end it with this moment is incredible. Buzzer-beaters are always great, but only March Madness buzzer-beaters turn random facts about random schools into national talking points.
5. I Picked It
I picked it. I picked it, and I told everybody about it online. Here, look:
Best Upset Candidate: Loyola-Chicago
Treat Loyola-Chicago’s game against Miami like an 8–9 matchup. The Ramblers are much better than your average no. 11 seed; the Hurricanes are considerably worse than the three other no. 6 seeds in the tournament. Vegas has the Canes listed as 1.5-point favorites going into Thursday’s clash, while KenPom gives Miami a 51 percent chance of winning.
There are a million perfect March Madness moments, but the only really perfect ones are the ones that you get to brag about. Congrats to the Ramblers, and to those of us who picked them.