Top-seeded Illini are stunned by Loyola Chicago

Chicago News USA

INDIANAPOLIS —  The Loyola-Chicago defense had the Illinois offense out of rhythm the entire game, and Ramblers center Cameron Krutwig was a huge presence under the basket, as the No. 8-seeded Ramblers upset the No. 1-seeded Fighting Illini 71-58 on Sunday at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Illinois trailed 33-24 at halftime and the Ramblers, a seven-point underdog, had an answer for everything the Illini tried in the second half to secure the upset.

“A tremendous amount of credit goes to Loyola. First 10 minutes of that game, they got us on our heels,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “We never really recovered. We had stretches, but they just rocked us, and again, we missed some easy opportunities. We’re not going to win many games when (Trent Frazier) is one for 10 (from the field) and (Ayo Dosunmu) had a tough” day.

After six quick points from Krutwig, Ramblers guard Bradan Norris drained a 3 to give Loyola an early 9-2 lead. A Marquise Kennedy 3-pointer wiith 12:10 remining in the first half extended the lead to 15-9 as the Ramblers’ defense had Illinois turning the ball over left and right. The Ilini had nine first-half turnovers and finished with 17.

Adam Miller hit a 3-pointer and a Kofi Cockburn dunk with 8:54 remaining got the team energized, but the Illini still trailed by as many as 14 in the first half.

Loyola’s Keith Clemons hit a 3 to make the score 33-19 but a three-point play by Cockburn, sparked by a beautiful pass from Andrew Curbelo for a dunk, got the Illini to the half on a positive note even if they trailed 33-24.

Krutwig, the Missouri Valley Conference player of the year, led Loyola with eight points, six rebounds, four assists and a steal in the first half. He finished with 19 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and four steals.

“Krutwig is outstanding, tremendous matchup. He dominated the game. He’s a difficult matchup and an awfully good player who makes everybody else better,” Underwood said.

Cockburn had seven points in the first half to lead Illinois. Dosunmu was a non-factor early, with four points and four turnovers in the first 20 minutes.

“Loyola guarded (Ayo). I mean, they got up into ball screens very hard and were very, very aggressive on him and made him pass the ball or try to pass the ball,” Underwood said. “He got downhill a few times and missed a couple of easy ones early, but again, it was a tough (game)t. Ayo doesn’t have six turnovers very often, and they made it tough for him to get to the rim.”

But the USA Today player of the year scored the second half’s first points and back-to-back buckets for Cockburn had the Ramblers’ lead down to six, 39-33, with 15:48 remaining.

Dosunmu hit a 3-pointer at 13:12 remaining, followed immediately by a return basket by Loyola’s Lucas Williamson to make it a 44-36 Ramblers’ lead. The pair were former youth league basketball teammates in Chicago and guarded each other for much of the game. Williamson finished with 14 points.

“At the end of the day I’m disappointed in myself. I’m disappointed in the way I played,” Dosunmu said. “I don’t think I played to my standards. I don’t think I played nowhere near how I wanted to play to help my team win. I understand that. Life comes with adversity. It’s not what you do when it happens, it’s what you do after it happens.”

Another basket by Norris and an Illini turnover led to two Ramblers free throws and a 49-36 Loyola advantage with about 10 minutes remaining.

With 5:08 left, Williamson drove the basket, scored and was fouled. He completed the three-point play to put Loyola up 59-46. From that point, Illinois could only shrink its deficit to seven points.

Cockburn led the Illini with 21 points and nine rebounds. Adam Miller scored 10 points and Dosunmu finished with eight in what was likely his final college game.

“A lot of respect to (Kofi). He’s super physical, super big. I mean, it’s tough to get around him,” Krutwig said. “He works so hard to seal you in there, seal you deep. He finishes everything around the rim, lobs, dunks, stuff like that. It tested me on defense, tested me on offense. Going through —he’s like a brick wall, going through him and scoring was a tough task.”

Loyola next faces the winner of the late Sunday game between No. 12-seeded Oregon State and No. 4-seeded Oklahoma State in the Sweet 16. That round will take place next Saturday and Sunday. The Elite Eight round will be held the following Monday and Tuesday.

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