INDIANAPOLIS – There are six players on the roster who are listed as seniors or redshirt seniors on the roster, but only two of them remember the true experience of three years ago.
They didn’t just live the experience, they played in it, and did a lot to make it happen.
Senior center Cameron Krutwig and senior guard Lucas Williamson are the only two players on the roster that saw action during the Ramblers’ run to the 2018 Final Four. Current senior guard Jake Baughman was on the roster but didn’t play and forward Aher Uguak had to sit out after transferring from New Mexico.
So Krutwig and Williamson have had to be the ones to teach a lot of players who are new to “March Madness” how things go when it’s “one-and-done.” It’s a different kind of pressure that can’t be duplicated during the regular season and can only be mimicked a bit during the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.
Starting last Friday, it was something different for the Ramblers, and it was up to the two seniors to show the team the way both on and off the floor.
“As you go on and as you get deeper and deeper, the media, your friends, your family, it’s going to get all up another level. A lot of people are going to be hitting you up saying, hey, congrats, all this stuff,” said Krutwig. “You’ve just got to try to find that balance between having the confidence in yourself, a respectful confidence for your opponent that you’re playing, and just knowing that, hey, we’re here, we’re ready to go this.
“I think that’s one thing Coach (Porter Moser) has really done well with us in giving us that confidence to go out and play and beat anybody, and that’s just — it starts with me and Lucas and the seniors, just telling these young guys, like hey, we can do this. You’ve got to believe in it.”
Williamson had that moment in the first round game against Georgia Tech when Loyola fell behind 13-3 at the start of the game. Having been in five tournament games before that, the guard knew the way to get things calmed down in the huddle and refocused on the task at hand.
“You’ll see it throughout this whole tournament. First game jitters, everybody’s excited to play in ‘March Madness.’ Like I said earlier, we’ve got a lot of players on this team that don’t have ‘March Madness’ experience,” said Williamson on Friday. “So I was just telling my teammates to just settle down, embrace the moment. At the end of the day, we’re playing a game that we’ve been playing our entire lives.”
It worked that afternoon, as the senior wisdom aided a 21-point turnaround as the Ramblers won it 71-60. There would be no jitters on Sunday as Loyola never once trailed top-seeded Illinois, jumping out to a 9-2 lead, increasing it to as much as 14 before eventually winning the contest 71-58.
Just as they were in Krutwig and Williamson’s freshman year, Loyola is one of the most popular teams still left in the tournament. Heavy attention will once again turn the Ramblers’ way, with the job of staying in the moment being one of the biggest as they look ahead of the Midwest Regional semifinal against Oregon State on Saturday.
“I’ve said this before. NCAA Tournament you want to enjoy it, man. You really want to enjoy it and be hype and enjoy the time off the floor with the teammates and everything and be loose and be fun and everything,” said Krutwig. “But when it’s time to lock in, when it’s time to get on the court, we only have an hour and a half, hour and 50 minutes on the court each day. When it’s time to watch film or anything like that, you’ve got to lock in and be ready because you don’t get a lot of that time, especially now with everything being so scheduled and the cleaning and everything that needs to go on.
“You’ve really got a limited window to get work done. So you’ve got to lock in, and I think we’ve really struck that balance really well.”
Cameron and Lucas have made sure that’s the case so far.