Marcus Thornton elevated with the ball in his hands and a chance to send William & Mary to the NCAA Tournament.
If you give any one of us that scenario before the season starts, we take it without hesitation. In fact, we'd take it with giddy enthusiasm.
He rose from the right wing, taking a shot he makes with regularity, a shot he'd basically just drilled two minutes prior, not an easy shot, but one less difficult than the one he made to beat Drexel.
He said if felt good coming out of his hand. His coach said it looked good in the air.
It was thismuch too long, bounding off the back rim and away.
Sports, man, they'll gut you.
In the pain and disbelief of that last moment, it was easy to forget that this team fought back from a 12-point second-half deficit against the league's clear regular-season champion. That they earned a champions victory over Towson in one of the greatest semifinals in league history. That they came back from the brink in the quarterfinal against Charleston.
It was easy to forget Omar Prewitt driving for a layup that all of a sudden became a one-handed throwdown that sparked the second-half comeback. Easy to forget Tim Rusthoven's 8-for-10, 16-point performance, and Daniel Dixon's stellar defensive effort. Easy to forget the brilliant Thornton's efficient 22-point effort, and Terry Tarpey's gritty work on the boards.
Perspective, in the moment, was hard to come by.
Much will be made of the Tribe's 3-for-11 performance from the free throw line, and much probably should be made of that number. And W&M's inability to stop Delaware's mammoth Carl Baptiste inside was probably the single most important factor in the game. But the Tribe shot 52.5% from the field (to the Blue Hens' 43.5%), and they outrebounded Delaware, 36-34. The Hens' explosive guard trio of Davon Usher, Devon Saddler, and Jarvis Threat combined for 42 points, but they missed 21 of 36 shots, and the defense of Brandon Britt, Dixon, Thornton, and Tarpey held the three well below their overall scoring average.
It says something to me that we're so disappointed, and that the team seemed to feel the same way. None of us were just happy to be there like we were in 2008 and 2010. We thought we should win. The Tribe went toe to toe with the league's two best teams over the past two nights, and they found themselves equal to the task.
Or perhaps, a quarter of an inch less than equal.
There's another place in which a little perspective might be in order. We've placed so much emphasis on the bid, that we've forgotten how far this program has come. As we walked out of the Baltimore Arena last night, Delaware celebrating on the court, we passed John Leone, a member of the Tribe teams that went 9-45 my first two years in Williamsburg. I made eye contact, and shook my head. He looked stricken, just gutted by the moment.
But W&M has made three finals in seven years after a recent history devoid even of hope. We're brutally disappointed today, but there will be a tomorrow. As Tony Shaver said last night, "The thing I get angry about is people trying to define whether or not you made the NCAA Tournament as whether you had a good year. If our goal is to make the NCAA Tournament, we can move into a conference that has the same academic restrictions we have. We choose to play at a higher level. I think that's admirable to be honest. We're not going to let the NCAA Tournament define our team." (We're grateful to Defiantly Dutch for finding us that quote.)
In 2003, the New York Yankees came from behind to beat the Boston Red Sox in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series on an Aaron Boone walkoff homerun. That's the worst I ever felt after a sporting event. Second worst, I guess. But one year later, that pain was long forgotten.
Shaver closed his press conference with something I hope I'll being to feel better about soon, saying, "We had a great year, and the future is very bright."
It's a simple game.
So why does it hurt so much?