ATLANTA – Hidden inside the smaller Phillips Arena locker room, the team with the most unlikely race for the Elite Eight was delighted at the time of March.
After beating Nevada on Thursday, Loyola's locker room in Chicago was full of reporters, cameras, bright lights and microphones. One side of the room were the heroes of the game, surrounded by scribes and answering questions. On the other hand, assistant coaches and role players lined up to grab some food at a small buffet table, immediately after the biggest victory of their careers.
Among all that, in a less crowded corner of the room, Donte Ingram sat down and took a breath. His team had won again. But this time, he was not the star. And that was fine with him. He had hit the triple of the winner of the game to give the Ramblers a surprise victory in the first round over Miami. This time, Marques Townes had the glory.
"Marques hit a big blow," Ingram said. "We know it could have been someone to hit that shot, when it came up, I wanted to break the glass, but at the same time, I was confident I was getting in."
A 6-foot-6-year-old student from the esteemed Simeon Chicago High School – which has produced players like Benji Wilson, Nick Anderson, Derrick Rose and Jabari Parker – Ingram scored just two points, two rebounds and one assist at Loyola's Sweet 16. But for 26 minutes, his game was still important: his size and speed allowed him to be a versatile defender, his length made him good at close outs, he established good and hard screens and his basketball IQ was invaluable.
But as he did not fill out the statistics sheet or hit a winner of the game, Ingram relaxed in the corner, away from the cameras, drinking a blue Powerade. Finally, a reporter walked over.
Each time Ingram answered a question, it came with a measure of the reality issue. It sounded like someone who had been in the Final Four several times. He sounded prepared. Ingram was destined to be there.
Hanging over Ingram was one of the 19 posters stuck in Loyola's entire wardrobe. Each one had x, o's and arrows scribbled on them. They had been hanging there since Loyola arrived. They were the Nevada plays, recorded in great detail.
Views called "Vegas", "Dribble Panther", "Break Stagger Away" and "Mouse Philly Double High". The members of the media had no idea what these words meant, but the Ramblers had memorized them.
The reporter asked Ingram, "Loyola is the most prepared team left in the NCAA tournament?"
"In my opinion, I would say yes," Ingram said. "This coaching staff does a great job of discovering the actions of other teams, the individual tendencies of the players, we analyze what the other team likes to do, we know most of the plays they play, they play more and like. what they do not like to do, offensively, defensively, everything, it's a competitive advantage for us. "
This explains why Loyola did not collapse in the first half when he dragged Nevada by 12 points. With 20-8, the Ramblers looked a little shocked: what Missouri Valley Conference team would not be on the Sweet 16? – but they settled quickly. The Ramblers played intelligently, made quick passes and played an implacable defense.
Nevada was faster, stronger and more talented than Loyola. But sometimes, it seemed that the Ramblers were one step ahead of the Wolf Pack, all thanks to the dedication of head coach Porter Moser to the scout.
"We're never ready," said Aundrae Jackson. "The coach (Moser) is a master scouter, he's always prepared and he always prepares us."
Because of Loyola's extensive exploration, Jackson was told that Nevada defenders were cheating the fakes on the edge. He saw it for himself in the first half.
He did not use the fakes and his shot was blocked a couple of times when one of six went out from the floor. But his teammate, Cameron Krutwig, used the fakes and scored eight points. Jackson adjusted in the second half, made four of five shots and finished the game with 15 points.
"They blocked my shots and jumped for everything, so I had to put my fake jump on that," Jackson said. "Once I started doing that and making more baskets, I felt more comfortable and it made it a little easier"
Jackson said that when he is on the floor, he often realizes sets in which the other team is located. Then he imagines the posters. The Ramblers in the bank will also notice it, and will call the plays.
Drawing plays on the posters and sticking them in the locker room has been something that Loyola has done in every game this season, both at home and away from home – says coach Bryan Mullins.
"It's so our guys can always see something they can see in the game," said Mullins. "It helps them visualize what the opponent is going to do."
Moser says he obtained his exploratory tactics from the late Rick Majerus, for who Moser worked as an assistant in Saint Louis from 2007-11. Moser said the Majerus dressing rooms in Utah and Saint Louis were very similar to those in Loyola.
"I think we underestimate young people about how much they can absorb," Moser said. "Some people have that philosophy of, I do not want to give them too much, overload, our guys hug him, and in terms of what that wardrobe looked like, he had Rick Majerus everywhere."
"It's great because, if we review the film, we can point out the works, "said Mullins. "The coaches have accepted it and the boys have also believed."
Wherever Loyola has gone this year, traveling in the war room is gone. Tons of tape on the opponent, and dozens of posters plastered around the locker room. Wherever the Ramblers go, the information about the opposition is with them.
When Loyola faces Kansas State on Saturday, one thing that the Ramblers will not be is not ready. They have already seen all the plays of the Wildcats; Now it's up to the players to use that information and apply it to the court.
"We already know everything the other team is going to do," Jackson said. "Then, it's up to us to do what we know how to do."