ATLANTA – Loyola-Chicago coach Porter Moser never doubted Marques Townes.
Not when Townes scored only a combined 15 points in Loyola’s first two NCAA Tournament games. Not even with Loyola’s improbable tournament run hanging in the balance Thursday night, Townes with the ball in front of the Loyola bench in the final seconds and the shot clock about to expire.
With Loyola clinging to a one-point lead and only 6.3 seconds remaining, Townes nailed the decisive 3-pointer to help clinch a 69-68 win over Nevada in the NCAA South Regional semifinal.
“He was a warrior,” Moser said.
Townes, who had 18 points, charged down the court, pumping his fist, following the shot.
“I’ll probably remember it for the rest of my life,” Townes said. “I mean, it doesn’t really get any better than that.”
Following a timeout, Nevada’s Caleb Martin answered with a 3, but this time the Wolf Pack couldn’t extend their string of second-half comebacks in the tournament.
“Got to give so much credit to Nevada, they never quit,” Moser said. “Those guys keep coming at you, coming at you. … I was blessed we made a couple of plays at the end, got a couple of stops.”
The win leaves the No. 11-seed Ramblers, the biggest surprise in a regional that has lost its top four seeds prior to the Sweet 16, one victory from a Final Four appearance. Loyola (31-5), which has won three tournament games by a combined four points, plays Kansas State in Saturday’s regional final.
Not bad for a program that hadn’t been in the Sweet 16 in 33 years.
On a team that shares the spotlight, this was Townes’ moment. He made each of his two 3s and led Loyola with five assists. He said he was fine after banging knees with Nevada’s Jordan Caroline at the end of the game.
“I think Marques Townes is the best player on the court tonight,” said Loyola guard Clayton Custer. “I don’t even think it was close, either. … This is unbelievable. Feels like a dream.”
Martin led Nevada (29-8) with 21 points. Twin brother Cody Martin had 16. Jordan Caroline added 19.
“We get a stop on the 3 they shot at the buzzer and maybe we’re sitting up here with a win,” said Nevada coach Eric Musselman.
Caleb Martin bemoaned his missed defensive opportunity before Townes’ big 3.
“I should have denied the catch,” Martin said of Loyola’s pass to Townes. “I just got lost and it was costly.”
Loyola trailed by 12 points, at 20-8, midway through the first half but stormed back to lead 28-24 at halftime. Loyola closed the half with a 20-4 run as Nevada didn’t score in the final 7:55 before the break.
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