Loyola began a new era this week when the men’s basketball team traveled to St. Louis, Missouri, to compete in their first year of Missouri Valley Conference post-season play. The Ramblers finished off the regular season 10-seeded, in last place, after a rough start in their newer and more difficult conference. Pitted against much tougher teams this year such as the currently-undefeated Wichita State was a shock for Loyola, but they hung strong all year and finished off the season with a 10-22 record. They entered into the Missouri Valley Conference tournament just excited to be a part of post-season play, not exactly expecting to succeed down in St. Louis. But they call it March Madness for a reason, and the madness definitely started early this year.
Loyola started off the weekend with a first-round game against Bradley on Thursday night. After losing both games to Bradley during regular season play, Rambler fans did not have high hopes for this match-up against the number 7 team. Cheerleaders, dancer team, band members, students, and fans alike were all shocked when the boys played such a strong game. They came out firing, and held a steady lead of about 10 points over Bradley for nearly the entire night. It wasn’t until the last 5 minutes of regulation that Bradley came roaring back and regained the lead.
After a few back-and-forth foul shots, Bradley found themselves on top 72-71 with only 4.8 seconds left in the game. As evident through all their regular season games, the Ramblers are not known for their success in high pressure, down to the second situations. The fans had all but given up as the ball was inbounded across the court to Loyola. The students had started up a half-hearted, already defeated chant of L-U! as the clock wound down to our seemingly-inevitable loss. But, lo and behold, the ball was passed to Milton Doyle, our star player freshly transferred in from Kansas. He threw the ball up well-behind the 3-point line for a classic Hail Mary, which dropped in perfectly right as the final buzzer blared. And in my 20 years of life, I have never been witness to a more perfect moment. Rambler fans around the arena just erupted in disbelieving screams and Milton Doyle was engulfed by the team with his buzzer beater putting the Ramblers up 74-72 for the win.
As a member of the band, I was front and center for the action, and it was easily the greatest moment of my college experience thus far. Throughout the game, Rambler fans believed a first round win might actually come easy for us, but taking back the victory after it was nearly ripped away just made it that much sweeter. And even though Loyola went on to play Indiana State University the next day and sustained a tough loss, I still consider them winners. And that also goes for the rest of the Loyola community. We had a small delegation of students actually present at the game, but the response to the win was astounding. My Facebook and Twitter accounts were immediately flooded with videos of the final shot and ecstatic students. Milton Doyle became an instant hero.
One fan from the student section recorded the last few seconds of the game on a phone, capturing the absolute euphoria experienced by those in attendance. After Loyola tweeted it out into the web, it was retweeted, posted, and shared like crazy. That final buzzer-beater moment was featured on Sportscenter’s Top 10 at number 5, and will forever live in infamy for the Ramblers. Countless photos, vines, statuses were generated from this game, and all the positive reactions are sure to inspire more interest for the men’s basketball team in the coming seasons.