BY JOHN KEKIS
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Ramblers are moving on. Are the Retrievers ready to run with them to the Sweet 16?
Loyola-Chicago kept its feel-good story going with a one-point win over third-seeded Tennessee in the second round Saturday as the little guys kept making more noise in the NCAA Tournament. The victory allowed 11th-seeded Loyola-Chicago to keep pace with the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, a commuter school in Baltimore which — before Friday night — was best known as a master of the game of chess by those who actually knew of the school.
UMBC etched its name in sports lore when it beat Virginia , the top seed in the men’s tournament, by 20 points, becoming the first No. 16 seed to accomplish the feat in 136 tries. Now, it’s time to see if the Retrievers can put all those post-victory texts and congratulatory calls in the rearview mirror when they play No. 9 seed Kansas State on Sunday with a Sweet 16 berth at stake.
“Yeah, we’re not satisfied,” UMBC guard K.J. Maura said. “We go in tomorrow with the mentality we’re going to win another game. We’re hungry for more.”
So, too, is Loyola, whose prayers again were answered in the waning seconds when Clayton Custer’s winning basket bounced up off the front of the rim, lightly touched the backboard, and dropped softly back down before slipping through the net with 3.6 seconds left . Custer’s winner came two days after Donte Ingram’s buzzer-beating 3 from the March Madness logo beat Miami.
“We know that we can play with these teams,” Custer said. “We play hard, we play together, and we play defense. I don’t think a lot of these teams know how hard we’re going to play when we show up. I know they got off to a good start, but coach challenged us to respond to it.”
Call it divine providence for a team making its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament in 33 years.
With a twist, that is.
Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, the team’s 98-year-old team chaplain and occasional coach , has been watching and praying from her wheelchair on a platform near the main TV cameras courtside. But her bracket doesn’t have her favorite team advancing past the Sweet 16.
“We’re going to have to prove Sister Jean wrong on this one,” Custer said.
MOUNTAIN MADNESS: These are heady days for the state of West Virginia, which really can’t lose Sunday when 13th-seeded Marshall meets Bob Huggins and his West Virginia Mountaineers for a berth in the regional semifinals. They’re the only two Division I colleges in the state that play the men’s game.
“Half of the state’s population is probably flying out here right now for the game,” Marshall guard Jon Elmore said. “The attention West Virginia is getting, shoot, half the media doesn’t even know we’re a state.”
Unfortunately, this game might have to suffice as far as the rivalry goes because the teams no longer play each other. Under Huggins, the Mountaineers have become a force in the Big 12 and no longer think scheduling the Thundering Herd is worthwhile despite pleas from fans and even the brief discussion of state legislative action to force the series to resume.
“We are on one end of the state. They are on the other end of the state. We don’t really cross,” Huggins said. “From our standpoint, it’s not what you want to make it out to be — Duke-North Carolina. It’s not that. It’s not that at all.”
CREAM RISES: Despite the upsets, top seeds Villanova and Kansas , second-seeded Duke , third-seeded Texas Tech and Michigan , fourth seed Gonzaga and fifth seed Kentucky are moving on to the Sweet 16 — the Zags for the fourth straight year — but they’re still wary considering what’s happened.
“Our biggest takeaway from just watching and being involved is that anything can happen,” Duke’s Marvin Bagley III said. “You know, every team is here for a reason and every game is — anybody could win it. We can’t assume anything … take it one day at a time because tomorrow’s never promised in this tournament.”
Top-seeded Xavier, second seeds North Carolina, Purdue and Cincinnati, and third-seeded Michigan State will try to advance Sunday.
ZONED IN: The state of New York singlehandedly took care of the Pac-12 in the NCAA Tournament, with Syracuse beating Arizona State and St. Bonaventure defeating UCLA in the First Four and Buffalo dominating Arizona in the first round.
Heading into Sunday’s matchup against Michigan State, the Orange are the only one of four New York teams still standing. Duke crushed Iona and the Bonnies fell to Florida in the first round, and Kentucky pulled away late to beat Buffalo 95-75 in the second round Saturday.
Syracuse, the tallest team in the country, has prevailed because of coach Jim Boeheim’s zone defense. It held Arizona State to 56 points and beat TCU 57-52 in the first round . Talk about being zoned in — that was 31 points below the season average for the Horned Frogs.
“If we’re playing the zone the correct way, we’re moving, active, talking, we definitely frustrate a lot of teams because we’re so long and athletic and with shot blockers down low,” guard Tyus Battle said. “And when you finally get that open shot, you start second-guessing it because you haven’t got an open shot the whole game. So it makes things tough on the opposing team.”
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