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Buzz is back for Loyola basketball.

Byline: Scot Gregor

Sporting maroon and gold scarves and Loyola baseball caps, Brian Dinsmore and Irfan Khan were fired up Sunday afternoon as they walked into Gentile Arena on the campus of Loyola.

"It's been a small little gap, 1985 to 2018," a beaming Dinsmore cracked. "But the gap's over. We're back!"

Absent from the NCAA Tournament since '85, when star guard Alfredrick Hughes led the Ramblers to the Sweet Sixteen, Loyola can't wait for its first March Madness experience in 33 years.

The Ramblers drew the No. 11 seed in the South Region after winning the Missouri Valley Conference championship. They face No. 6 Miami (Florida) Thursday afternoon in Dallas.

"It feels great," head coach Porter Moser said. "I'll tell you what, I'm just soaking in the moment with the fans. I got bear hugged I don't know how many times walking in. Some guy said, 'I graduated in 1963.' There was another '86 alum. People everywhere.

"Pride is an awesome human trait. It's so awesome to see the pride in the Loyola faithful."

Hughes, who is the No. 11 all-time scorer in college basketball history, was on hand at Gentile Arena to soak up the pride and excitement.

"I watched him growing up," said Moser, a Naperville native and Benet High School graduate. "When I got the job I met him. He was like a little kid today. 'Porter, we're back, we're back.' Like I said, pride and excitement in the Loyola faithful."

The Ramblers won the national championship in 1963, and they still were a program that was known in '85.

The years have quietly passed, but this Loyola team bonded during a two-week boot camp before the first practice of the season.

Moser also showed his players a tape of last year's NCAA Tournament selection show, something he has done in each of his seven years as Loyola's coach.

"It's just surreal," Moser said. "We tape the selection show and show it to our players as a motivation. We say, 'This has got to be us.' No more motivation. This is real."

The Ramblers started showing they were for real on Dec. 6, when they improved their record to 9-1 with a 65-59 victory at fifth-ranked Florida.

Loyola (28-5) heads into the NCAAs with 10 straight wins, most recently a 65-49 romp over Illinois State in the MVC title game on March 4.

Erasing a 33-year March Madness drought has brought excitement to Loyola, not that there was any pressure.

"Most of us have been here for three or four years," said junior guard Clayton Custer, the Ramblers' leading scorer at 13.4 points per game. "It's more exciting that we brought the buzz back. We brought back something that's been missing."

Moser sat on a stage with his players and coaches at Gentile Arena for the NCAA selection show.

Loyola didn't have to wait long to find out it was matched up against Miami, which finished 22-9 (11-7 in the Atlantic Coast Conference).

"I just want us to play like we have all year," said junior Marques Townes, one of four Ramblers who averaged double digits in scoring this season. "But it's a different scenario now because it could be our last game of the season.

"We have to play our hearts out and give it everything we've got."

Fast facts on the Ramblers

Sunday was Loyola's first appearance in a conference tournament since 2002 when the Ramblers played in the Horizon League.

By now, everyone knows this is Loyola's first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since the Alfredrick Hughes-led team of 1985. That team had 27 wins. This team has 28.

If they win a first-round game in the NCAA tourney, the Ramblers can tied a record set by the 1962-63 NCAA champs with 29 wins.

Before Porter Moser took over as head coach in 2011, the Ramblers had only one 20-win season in the past 26 years.

When he coached at Illinois State, Porter Moser's teams were 2-0 against Loyola. Moser's record at Illinois State was 51-67. He has 117 wins at Loyola.

While Moser, a Naperville native, played his high school ball at Benet Academy, another former suburban basketball star is an assistant, Bryan Mullins of Downers Grove South.

Mullins' brother, Brendan, is an assistant coach at Illinois State.,

The Ramblers under Moser

2011-12: 7-23

2012-13: 15-16

2013-14: 10-22

2014-15: 24-13

2015-16: 15-17

2016-17: 18-14

2017-18: 28-5

Total: 117-110
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Date:Mar 12, 2018
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