ATLANTA – Loyola’s stirring run through the NCAA tournament has inspired memories of the Ramblers’ championship 55 years ago.
The graying reminders of that history are hanging on every win.
Sitting in front-row seats, four members of that 1963 Loyola championship team were glued to every play Thursday night, trying to will their alma mater to victory.
“We need a stop,” Jerry Harkness, the captain of that ’63 team, said in the waning minutes. “We just need a stop.”
They got it.
And then, Marques Townes sank a decisive 3-pointer with only 6.3 seconds remaining to help clinch the Ramblers’ 69-68 win over Nevada in the NCAA South Regional semifinal on Thursday night.
“The whole nation must be sort of sitting on the edge of their chairs tonight,” said Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, Loyola’s 98-year-old team chaplain.
Sister Jean has become a celebrity during the tournament. The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum, in conjunction with Loyola University Chicago, unveiled an officially licensed, limited edition Sister Jean bobblehead Friday.
Yes, the Loyola bandwagon has gained that much momentum.
And this squad is inescapably being linked to the 1963 team. Harkness and three other members of that squad – Les Hunter, John Egan and Rich Rochelle – were in Atlanta for the Sweet 16 game.
Loyola coach Porter Moser accompanied members of that 1963 team on a 2013 visit with President Barack Obama at the White House and said he was “just blown away by their character, about the stories they told, just sitting there listening to the whole story behind the “Game of Change.”
“I love that this run is sparking the renewed conversation of what that team meant to our country and integration, and to hear the stories firsthand from them and to hear the brotherhood that they had, the black guys, the white guys, everyone together. It was a brotherhood; it was a high character. They embraced the Loyola education.”
Townes said he has enjoyed visits from players on the ’63 team in practices and games.
“The ’63 team always comes in and always tries to talk to us and give us their support,” Townes said. “They always joke around and say we’re better than them, that they have support for us. And we’re happy to talk to them, and we’re happy to have them along on this run. Like he said, it’s tradition, and we’re looking forward to the next challenge.”
The next challenge is Kansas State on Saturday night.
Townes sealed that date against Nevada, becoming the latest hero for Loyola.
He launched a 3-pointer from in front of the Loyola bench with the shot clock about to expire as the Ramblers came through again.
“He was a warrior,” Moser said.
Townes, who had 18 points, charged down the court, pumping his fist, after the shot.
“I’ll probably remember it for the rest of my life,” Townes said. “I mean, it doesn’t really get any better than that.”
Loyola, the No. 11 seed, will face Kansas State, the No. 9 seed, in the regional final. It will be the first 9 vs. 11 matchup in the Elite Eight, a fitting end to a region that became the first to have the top four seeds eliminated on the opening weekend.
Loyola (31-5) has won three tournament games by a combined four points.
Not bad for a program that hadn’t been in the Sweet 16 in 33 years.
This team is on a memorable run of its own.
Loyola guard Clayton Custer said, “This is unbelievable. Feels like a dream.”
For Sister Jean and the gray-haired guys in the front row Thursday night, they’re hoping the dream doesn’t come to an end against the Wildcats.