Well that was heartbreaking. A friend texted me and said the way we lost was so painful, he would've preferred to stay down by 10 the whole time rather than have a glimmer of hope.
I don't think so. Not one bit.
We were flat for about 35 minutes. We were slow guarding the dribble and got beat by their quick little guards all day. Our shots weren't falling, not because they were bad. They were open looks, they just didn't fall. Purdue's defense had an answer for Delly all game and kept Jones pretty quiet until he start pushing his way inside for higher percentage shots. Our treys were weak.
In the second half, we had good offensive possessions, working for buckets and making them. But the black and gold answered overtime, keeping that near double digit lead all game.
Then we hit the 4:30 mark and things started turning. We were down 11 at that point, but gained on their lead from there on out.
The bench was doing a great job, jumping up after every bucket and kneeling on the sidelines willing good defense on the other end of the floor.
The bench lit up when Jones hit a big three to pull within 2.
Then it went nuclear after Page's triple from the corner.
I love video because it captures that moment perfectly. My favorite moment in sports is the silence of thousands of people holding their breath when a huge three is in the air. Everyone knows it's going in, but isn't ready to believe it yet. But when it hits the twine-- explosion. That's exactly what happened here.
The audio levels on my camera hit red, and the fans went nuts. The bench was so fired up, I had to edit the celebration short to keep an f-word from being mouthed on camera.
We were up with :44 to go. We had momentum. It felt like a Madness Miracle.
But it wasn't meant to be. A mental lapse, an airball, and a shot that was taken a second too early spelled disaster and a loss for Gael Nation.
A devastating, heartbreaking loss. I've seen a handful of Gael losses, but I've never seen the emotions overcome the players as it did Friday night. Several players leaning over, covering their faces, to keep cameras from seeing their tears. But we knew they were there.
For the next 30 seconds, players embraced each other in arms and in spirit, walking off the court in pairs and trios.
The season is over.
In the press conference, Delly and Jones were the student-athletes facing the media. Their faces were read, their eyes puffy. It was clear to everyone in there what was going on for the last ten minutes in that locker room that was filled and empty at the same time.
When they got up on the risers and looked down on the dozens of reporters, Delly and I made eye contact.
I tried to give a look of comfort and slight nod of the head. I tried to say, "You did great. Be proud."
I don't know if that's the message he got, but I hope so.
Coach Bennett talked about Jones' role as a leader in this game was the best he's ever seen from him. Said he's come a long way from the player and the man he was years ago when he joined the Saint Mary's program.
Coach's reflection on Jones in the last question of the press conference and, ultimately, the season: "…this year he continued to improve and he wanted to be good. It's hard to change, I think it's hard to change when you're 22, but you can if you really want to. He really wanted to be that, he wanted to be a good leader and be a guy we could count on. He turned into a heck of a player. But more importantly for life, his leadership skills improved, as a person he improved and as a coach, that's what you're looking for."
Coach on the court, and off it.
We caught up with Jones in the locker room a few minutes later. Here's what he said about Coach and his time at Saint Mary's: "It's been the three best years of my college career. I wouldn't trade it for anything. I want to thank Coach Bennett, for giving me a second chance as a player and as a man. I want to thank every player that's weever played with me. And I'm just glad to be a part of the Saint Mary's tradition."
Take that all in for a moment.
What do you think the Saint Mary's tradition is?
Who wouldn't be proud to be associated with that?
There were questions about when the pain from this loss wears off and how the season will be remembered.
I'll say that this was the best season in Saint Mary's' recent history. Excellence throughout the season led to a regular season conference title and a dethroning of Gonzaga, a conference tournament title, months of time spent in the Top 25 and the best mid-major conversation.
Coach Bennett has turned the Gaels into a perennial noticeable team. There's maybe a handful of mid-majors that could be considered elite and we're one of them. (I'd say Gonzaga, Butler, Davidson, VCU could make the list depending on their March run)
At the end of the season, I typically feel a sense of loss. Like it won't ever be as good as it was this year. We got a break or two that we won't get again and we won't be able to top what we've got.
I don't feel that way this year. I've got a positive outlook for the Gaels' future. And that's a beautiful thing.
Always a Gael.