Loyola, Ill., among the first teams to punch a ticket to the NCAA Tournament, will carry a strong Kansas City flavor into the postseason.
A pair of former Blue Valley Northwest teammates, Clayton Custer and Ben Richardson, helped the Ramblers defeat Illinois State 65-49 on Sunday in the Missouri Valley Conference championship game in St. Louis.
Loyola heads to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1985, and Custer and Richardson know something about championship level play. Their Huskies teams won a pair of Kansas 6A championships.
They’ve carried that success to Loyola. Custer, who started his career at Iowa State before transferring, won the Larry Bird Award as the MVC player of the year.
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"It's obviously a scary thing to transfer, it's a super-scary situation, it's a low point because there's so much unknown," Custer said. "I feel like I couldn't have come to a place that would have welcomed me more than they did here."
Richardson was selected to the league’s all-defense team and earned a spot on the all-tournament team.
"This is what we've been dreaming about," Richardson said. "This is what we've been talking about. We knew we had a lot of potential, a lot of pieces this year."
Loyola’s victory also was a triumph for NCAA Tournament hopefuls — bubble teams. The Ramblers, now with a 28-5 record, might have been selected as an at-large team had they lost Sunday, and that could have taken the spot of a team like Texas, Syracuse, Southern California or others that have the profile of a bubble team.
Also Sunday, Radford won its way into the field with a 55-52 victory in the Big South over Liberty on freshman Carlik Jones’ buzzer-beating three-pointer on the Highlanders’ home floor in Radford, Va.
Lipscomb beat top-seeded Florida Gulf Coast, coached by former Kansas assistant Joe Dooley, 108-96 to win the Atlantic Sun and quality for the NCAA for the first time in school history.
On Saturday, Murray State became the first team to automatically qualify for the tournament by defeating Belmont 68-51 in the Ohio Valley Conference title game. The Racers are in the tournament for the first time since 2012, when their coach was current Iowa State boss Steve Prohm.