ATLANTA — Kansas State entered Saturday night’s game against Loyola-Chicago hoping to end a Final Four drought that dated back to 1964.
Turns out the Wildcats never really had a prayer against Sister Jean’s Ramblers.
Loyola, the Cinderella team with the 98-year-old chaplain who has gained celebrity status during this NCAA Tournament, jumped on K-State early in both halves and cruised to a 78-62 victory in the South Regional finals at Philips Arena.
Kansan Ben Richardson hit six 3-pointers and scored 23 points to lead the 11th-seeded Ramblers (32-5) back to the Final Four for the first time since their 1963 team won the national championship.
K-State, meanwhile, finished the season 25-12. Xavier Sneed scored 16 points, Barry Brown added 14 and Kamau Stokes pitched in 13 off the bench to pace the Wildcats.
Sister Jean again prayed with the Ramblers before the start of Saturday’s Elite Eight affair, and the Missouri Valley Conference champions certainly played like they had a higher power on their side.
“Hat’s off to Loyola,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “(We need to) learn from them. They were at a different speed. They played at a different level.”
K-State had leaned on its defense throughout the tournament in wins against Creighton, Maryland-Baltimore County and Kentucky, but the Wildcats were helpless against Loyola. The Ramblers shot 57.4 percent from the field and had 17 assists on 27 field goals.
They were strong from the start, too, shooting 55.6 percent in the opening half to claim a 12-point lead. They then put the game away during the first 10-plus minutes of the final period, pushing their advantage to 61-38 on a reverse layup by Lucas Williams at the 9:40 mark.
“I think they were just more disciplined on offense,” said K-State’s Brown, who along with Sneed was named to the All-South Region team. “We didn’t really have a disciplined defense. They were spreading us out, getting in gaps and kicking and just making the right passes.
“And we were just never able to recover and stop it and close out.”
Richardson, who teamed with Ramblers point guard Clayton Custer to lead Blue Valley Northwest to two state championships, delivered most of the big blows en route to being named the tournament’s most outstanding player. He had a four-point play at the 16:54 mark to hike Loyola’s lead to 45-29 and buried his fifth trey of the night at the 11:13 mark to start a 7-0 run that made it 61-38.
K-State cut its deficit to 64-52 with a 12-3 charge that featured seven points from Stokes, but Richardson’s final 3-pointer kept the Ramblers in front by double digits.
“He had a shining moment, and you’ve got to give him credit,” Weber said.
“I felt like I was in a rhythm,” said Richardson, who hit 7 of 10 shots and an eye-opening 6 of 7 treys. “I got a good look to start the game and that kind of started me off. Then I hit a contested one and then after that I was really in a rhythm. The rim starts to look a little bigger.”
The rims never looked all that big to the Wildcats, who played without leading scorer Dean Wade for the third time in the tournament. K-State shot 34.8 percent from the field (23 of 66) and missed 20 of 26 3-pointers.
“We never could get in any rhythm,” Weber said. “And I feared it. Our staff feared it. We talked a lot yesterday about it. They were better defensively than I even thought, to be honest.”
Despite the loss and a distraught postgame locker room, Weber and Wildcats took heart from their deepest NCAA run since the 2010 team also reached the regional finals.
K-State is expected to return all of its primary contributors — most notably Wade, Brown, Sneed, Stokes, point guard Cartier Diarra and forward Makol Mawien — so the hope is that this experience will lead to even more success next year.
“It gives us a lot of confidence,” said Wade, whose injured left foot isn’t expected to require surgery. “We knew that we were good before, but now we know that we can compete with anyone. We have high expectations for next season.”
“Now we had success, but it can’t stop,” Weber added. “We’ve got to keep improving. I think they want it. They got a taste of it. We’ve got to get better at some things.”