Rambling to the Elite Eight: It’s Townes’ turn to take the spotlight

ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 22: Marques Townes #5 of the Loyola Ramblers reacts against the Nevada Wolf Pack in the second half during the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at Philips Arena on March 22, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. The Loyola Ramblers defeated the Nevada Wolf Pack 69-68. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

ATLANTA – March brings about stories, which are created through plays, which are made by athletes.

It’s the “Circle of Life” for any NCAA Tournament, and it’s churning out award-winning narratives for Loyola in 2018.

Donte Ingram was first. Clayton Custer was second. Now Marques Townes is next. Decentralized hero systems are often the key to a surprise run during “March Madness” and the Ramblers have fit that perfectly.

“I’ll probably remember it for the rest of my life,” said the guard of his three-pointer with just a tick over six seconds to play that put away a 69-68 win for Loyola over Nevada in the Sweet 16 on Thursday. “I mean, it doesn’t really get any better than that. Clay made a great play, got downhill, kicked me to the corner. The guy came flying at me, I just gave him a little shot fake, and I shot it, and it went in.

Just as it was for Ingram and Custer, Townes becomes the de-facto darling of the build-up to the next game for Loyola in the South Region – and it’s the biggest for the program in 55 years. That’s an Elite Eight date with Kansas State early Saturday evening, in which one win sends the Ramblers to their first Final Four since 1955.

Townes’ three-pointer is the reason they are there – and to him go the spoils for a day.

“It was just — that’s something you dream about. You’re in the Sweet 16 and you hit a big shot like that,” said Townes, who finished the game with a team-high 18 points. “It’s just amazing. I’m just blessed to be in that position.”

Getting there took his own unique journey, one which casual fans got to know a little more about after Townes’ heroics on Thursday. This isn’t the first NCAA Tournament for the guard since he took the floor for the “Big Dance” in 2016 as a member of the Fairleigh Dickinson Northeast Conference Tournament Champions.

He was only in the First Four that year and the season ended in Dayton with a loss at the 16th seed to Florida Gulf Coast. Following that season, the New Jersey native decided to leave his home state in search of a new start, and he found Loyola. One visit to the campus and he was sold on Porter Moser’s program, and made the move to Chicago in 2016.

When I first got there, it just felt like family, and that was the main thing for me,” said Townes of deciding to go to Loyola. “It felt like a home. So that’s when I decided to come here.”

After sitting out a season, Townes was back on the floor both in a reserve and starter’s role during the 2017-2018 season. He averaged 11.2 points and 3.9 rebounds a game, but arguably saved his best game for the biggest so far. Finishing 6-of-10 from the field, while hitting his only two three-point attempt and all of his free throws, it was Townes’ triple in the final seconds that has created a third incredible memory for Ramblers fans during a once-in-a-lifetime run.

It’s especially sweet for the guard, who admitted it was difficult to watch from the sidelines all of last season.

“It was a long journey. For any redshirt, for any player that has to sit out, it’s kind of rough mentally, but you just stick with it,” said Townes. “And now this year, I’m just fortunate and blessed to be with these guys. This is a special group of guys right here, and we’ve been doing this all year, just one game at a time.

“Coach has instilled a good culture in us, and he’s just a really good coach, and I’m really happy to be playing for him.”

Loyola is happy to have Marques – the newest star of a star-crossed run to a championship.