Saturday night hurt. It didn’t hurt me as a fan; to me, it was disappointing. I’ve seen it before and I have seen it from every team I have rooted for. And I know I’ll see it again. That’s the glory of being a fan: we always have next year.
But these players – they’ll never have next year. Not in college. Not with these teammates. And certainly not with us. Rob Gray, Devin Davis, Wes Van Beck, and Nura Zanna have formed a lifelong bond at UH but they’ll never get another chance to redeem themselves in a UH uniform again. They’ll never be able to pick each other up again.
You hear people say that ‘this game will haunt them.’ I don’t think that’s true. The book is written and the ink is dry and the end will play forever in their minds. But haunt them? Nah. They’ll go onto success, playing basketball if they want but certainly in whatever they choose to do. Will they question what they could have done differently? Sure, all athletes do. Will they think they could have done more? Absolutely.
But this is March Madness and 67 teams will live with those same demons. The players from SDSU were so close to a win Thursday – they’ve been questioning themselves for 3 days. Those Cincinnati players that just gave up a 22-point lead? They’ll relive every possession, over and over. Virginia, Xavier, Tennessee, Michigan State, UNC, Wichita State, Arizona, and Auburn all lost as top 4 seeds on opening weekend. They’ll all relive this tournament in their minds for weeks on end. It’s the blessing and curse of this tournament. It’s the Madness that produces the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.
Unfortunately for UH, those exhilarating highs and those terrible lows collided just 4 ticks from the Sweet 16. Up by 2 with double-bonus free throws, Devin Davis devastatingly missed twice, giving Michigan a chance. Then, a little-used freshman, legs splayed like a jackknife, heaves the ball towards the rim as the whole world watches. Poole’s Prayer hit nothing but net.
Up two with a chance to ice it to heartbreak caused by an unlikely villain in infamous March Madness fashion. All in the blink of an eye. All with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line. And it ends in a daze. Did that just happen? What did I do? What could we have done? Players amble off the floor in stunned silence for the final time as teammates. Not with heads held high but looking down, searching for answers. That’s the game. That’s the Madness. And that is truly heartbreaking.
It took a miracle shot from well beyond the three-point line to keep this team from the Sweet 16 and a date with Texas A&M in Los Angeles. I promise you, these athletes aren’t over the loss yet today. Finding out they could have had Texas A&M makes it sting even more. They’ll wander through life for a few days, taking time to meet obligations but with their minds elsewhere. In time, I hope they see their accomplishments in the same way fans like us do.
We will remember their response to Harvey. The shoe and t-shirt drive that united hundreds of schools all across the country in one uplifting mission. They fought through flood waters to bring aid to the people of Houston.
We will remember what they accomplished as nomads, without a home court advantage, playing games across the street and making the best of it: a 15-0 home record – For The City.
We will remember the grit, the determination, the big wins. We will remember the adversity they fought through. We will remember the home wins over Arkansas, Cincinnati, Wichita State, and getting to the AAC title game. We will remember the first NCAA Tournament win in 34 years.
We will remember these champions for the rest of our lives.