INDIANAPOLIS – The first full round of the Men’s NCAA Tournament began March 19th all around Indianapolis and surrounding Indiana colleges. The tournament that usually takes place all over the country was moved to Indianapolis for COVID-19 concerns. Tech made their first appearance for the first time since 2010.
Tech received a #9 seed on Selection Sunday in the Midwest Region, drawing Loyola Chicago for the first round. On paper, it was very evenly matched as both teams had defensive standouts and centers that held the crux of their offensive and defensive outputs together. In Tech’s case, senior Moses Wright became ineligible to play after testing positive for COVID-19 in between the Jackets winning the ACC Championship and travelling to Indianapolis. This loss is what likely caused the Jackets to fall short of Loyola.
Tech was fast out of the gate, scoring an 11-0 run and forcing three turnovers in just over three minutes that forced Loyola to call a very early timeout not even five minutes into the first half. The zone defense that head coach Josh Paster implements for the most part held stout throughout the first half, but it was nothing stellar compared to past performances this season. Moses’ absence wasn’t showing, especially in the middle of the half when Loyola had a hard time defending and Tech got easy layups. After a jumper by junior Khalid Moore, Tech was up 17-11.
After that, Loyola came much more into shape and made life rough for Tech, especially around the bucket. The Ramblers went on an 8-2 run led by Missouri Valley player of the year Cameron Krutwig, who would finish with only ten points, but all crucial buckets. A Krutwig layup at the 2:47 mark gave Loyola their first lead since early in the game. Tech only made two baskets in the last five minutes of the first half, and their body language was clearly showing they needed to reset. At half, Loyola led by five, 30-25.
Tech was far calmer starting the second half, getting a couple quick buckets by seniors Jose Alvarado and Jordan Usher.
The tightest battle of the whole game came between the 18 minute and 11 minute marks in the second half. It was back and forth after Lucas Williams hit a three to expand the lead back to five for Loyola. Krutwig on plays he wasn’t double teamed was getting easy layups to keep the Jackets slightly at bay. Usher made two buckets, but junior Khalid Moore had to be subbed out at the 17:26 mark for sophomore Rodney Howard after committing his third foul. Tech went on a 9-0 run to take their first lead of the second half 39-37. After a Loyola turnover and a missed layup by Moore, Braden Norris hit a three to reclaim the lead for Loyola. Alvarado quickly followed with a layup to take a one point lead, which was followed by an easy dunk by Moore. The next Loyola possession, Keith Clemons made a three to tie the game, and Tech would no longer see the lead.
The Ramblers went on a 13-4 run highlighted by five Lucas Williamson points, who lead
Loyola with 21 points on four of seven shooting from three. Sturdivant commited the Jacket’s sixth foul of the half very early at the 9:55 mark, which in a way spelled the end of the game for Tech. The Ramblers only had two fouls at that point.
Loyola rode lots of momentum from Tech slipping on defense and not being able to get points in the paint. While Tech was trying, it was evident that they knew where this game was headed, and nothing could stop it minus a miracle that didn’t come. A Devoe foul at 5:22 left in the 2nd half put the Loyola bench in a frenzy that looked like they knew the win was coming for them. Loyola won 71-60.
In the postgame interview, Alvarado was on the verge of tears, saying “It didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but I’m so happy that I get to call [my teammates] my brothers. And the worst pain is that I was trying to win it for Mo.”
The lack of Moses Wright was clear in rebounding. Loyola outrebounded Tech 30-17, including multiple second chance buckets. Devoe, Usher, and Alvarado all had 13+ points, but the foul trouble early in the second half stung the Jacket’s ability to be as aggressive as they wanted to be on defense. Senior Bubba Parham, who started in Wright’s place, Alvarado, and Moore all ended with four fouls. Alvarado was the only Jacket to play all 40 minutes.
This marked Tech’s 17th NCAA Tournament appearance, and first loss in the first round since 2007 against UNLV. Loyola will go on to play number one seed Illinois in the second round on Sunday.