Loyola makes No. 3 seed Tennessee its latest last-second conquest

DALLAS -- Sister Jean told Tennessee to "watch out." And now the Vols have become the latest victim of Loyola's March magic.

Loyola-Chicago is this season's first double-digit seed into the Sweet 16 after a dramatic 63-62 victory over No. 3 seed Tennessee and it did it with yet another dramatic buzzer-beating finish.

The Ramblers -- the South Region's 11th seed -- needed another big-time shot roughly 48 hours after Donte Ingram hit a 30-foot 3-pointer to push them past No. 6 seed Miami. This time, it was junior guard Clayton Custer who delivered.

With the Vols holding a one-point lead with 10 seconds to go, Custer shot a leaning 15-foot jumper that caromed off the rim twice and touched the glass before falling through the net with 3.6 seconds left.

The Vols hurried downcourt for a potential winning attempt but Jordan Bone's jumper missed. Custer grabbed the rebound after the buzzer, cradled it in his right arm with his team running full speed at him and launched it high into the American Airlines Center as his teammates mobbed him in celebration.

"I can't believe what just happened," Custer said with a smile afterward.

Believe it. Call them "Cinderella" if you want, but the Ramblers (30-5) outplayed the SEC regular-season co-champions for much of Saturday evening. Before the tournament, they were pegged as a trendy upset pick thanks to their Missouri Valley Conference championship, an RPI that ranked 28th nationally and a nonconference win at Florida -- the nation's 23rd-ranked team and the East Region's sixth seed -- and through two rounds, they've showed that those credentials were no fluke.

Like Loyola's first-round opponent, Tennessee simply has some athleticism that the Ramblers do not. It was evident early, when Vols forward Admiral Schofield scored 11 points in the game's first five minutes and the Vols clamped down on the Ramblers defensively.

Loyola adjusted beautifully. The faster and harder Tennessee defenders ran at the Ramblers, the more they passed or pump-faked or ball-faked. The extra pass, the extra fake, whatever it took to get a good, clean look at the basket.

"We tried to get a lot of shot fakes because they try to run guys off the line," junior guard Marques Townes said. "If you get the shot fake and drive and kick it once more, once more, have them scrambling, it'll create a domino effect to try to get guys open looks. I felt like we did that well during the game and we were fortunate that guys hit open looks."

Said freshman guard Lucas Williamson: "At halftime, I remember [Custer] saying, 'I'm tired.' I said, 'Clay, you're tired. Imagine how they feel. This is our type of game. We've played fast all year.' Down the stretch we were able to get a few [better looks] here and there."

After recovering from Tennessee's early surge, Loyola took a late first-half lead that it did not relinquish until late. Tennessee's final first-half lead came at the 6:19 mark, and the Vols didn't reclaim it until the final minute of the game, when SEC player of the year Grant Williams completed a three-point play. Loyola shot 50 percent from the field (to Tennessee's 45) and outrebounded the Vols' 27-24.

Like any double-digit seed, the Ramblers certainly benefited from a few breaks along the way. Miami was without sophomore guard Bruce Brown in the teams' first-round meeting on Thursday, and a hip injury kept Tennessee starting forward Kyle Alexander out Saturday. But that doesn't minimize what Loyola has done, particularly on Saturday, because for long stretches in both games, the Ramblers simply played like the better team.

"I think teams are starting to realize that they're playing a team when they play us," Custer said. "They're going to have to play well to beat us. I don't really think of us as a Cinderella. We're 3-for-3 vs. high-majors so far."

Loyola coach Porter Moser said the Ramblers aren't out to make a statement.

"It's not part of our process," he said.

Regardless, they have.

The Ramblers -- winners of 12 straight games -- have a fun story as a mid-major conference squad with a team chaplain -- 98-year-old nun Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt -- who has captured the hearts of the nation in the past two days. But after two games in Dallas, Loyola has shown that it was more than worthy of the pre-tournament buzz that it received.

Bet against Sister Jean and the Ramblers at your own risk.