Loyola Chicago upsets top-seeded Illinois in NCAA tournament after Sister Jean’s pregame prayer

INDIANAPOLIS — Loyola Chicago fulfilled the plans of its 101-year-old supersister Jean on Sunday by advancing to the Sweet 16 with a 71-58 victory over Illinois, the league’s No. 1 seed who has been eliminated from the NCAA Tournament this year.

Cameron Krutwig delivered a 19-point, 12-channel masterpiece with a fast eight-man Rambler (26-4) with an LED string. They were better than Illinois State’s strong offense and returned to the Final Four for the second time, three years after their last magical run.

The Ramblers now play either Oklahoma State or Oregon State, who will meet on Sunday.

Their journey to the 2018 Final Four was led by Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, a respected team chaplain who received both the KOVID-19 shots and permission to travel to Indianapolis to see what inspiration she could bring back in 2021.

Before watching most of the game from the luxury suite – sitting in a wheelchair and dressed in her signature burgundy and gold scarf – Jean said a pre-game prayer that could have come straight out of the John Wood handbook.

When we play against the Fighting Illini, we ask for special help to beat this team and get a big win, she said. We hope to score quickly and make the opponent nervous. We have a great chance to convert rebounds, as this team grabs about 50% of rebounds and 30% of 3-point shots. Our defense will take care of that.

From his mouth to his ears.

It’s a whole season. That’s our defense, Krutwig said. It’s not just a 48-hour exploration. We’ve been working on it all season, all season. I think people have forgotten: We were the number one defense in the country this year. People give him the status of a mediocre major.

Illinois (24-7) was back in first place for the first time since the Final Four in 2005, but trailed by double digits in the first half and never got any closer. The Illini made 16 turnovers and scored 23 points below their season average.

Illinois’ 7-foot-2 Kofi Cockburn scored just 21 points on 7-of-12 shooting, but he worked hard on every shot against the pesky presence of Krutwig and Co.

And Loyola guards Lucas Williamson and Keith Clemons prevented First Team All-America player Ayo Dosunmu from finding his comfort zone. He finished the game with nine points, 11 below his season average.

I really feel like I let my team down today, but I can accept it, I can accept the criticism, I can accept whatever happens, Dosunmu said. I can handle it. I’ve been through it all, you know, it’s just another bump in the road.

The other All-American on the field was third team member Krutwig, who was not in his right mind for this game.

He got out of the way, did turnovers when needed and caused a lot of foul trouble on defense, allowing the 6-foot-9 senior to play more. He also had five assistants. Krutwig was at Loyola on her final trip to the Final Four and has since become one of four players in Missouri Valley Conference history to score 1,500 points, 800 boards and 300 assists.

And there’s a chance for more.

This is a turn of events that Sister Jean has observed. Before the game, she suggested that Loyola, the MVC champion who has already won 25 games this season, might have made a bad deal by being seeded No. 8 so early against the No. 1.

There was only one way to handle it, and for anyone who wasn’t in Champaign – or who now has a freshly chosen bracket – it’s hard to argue that this Loyola team isn’t a breath of fresh air in this tournament that it needs.

Sure there have been a few surprises, some drama, and a few small teams that have done big things.

But there’s no one like Sister Jean to put it all in perspective. Ramblers and March Madness are a hard habit to break.

And Loyola had no intention of finishing Sunday by staying on the field during post-game interviews.

I wanted them to enjoy this moment, coach Porter Moser said. All our fans were there. They didn’t want to go. The guards should have sent her away. I wanted them to stay away and enjoy it. It’s an engraving in your memory. All the work you do, all the effort and sacrifice you make. I didn’t want to rush to the locker room. Get behind Krutwig. I wanted everyone to enjoy the moment with the fans a little more.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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