This is not instant analysis and it may not be terribly good writing, but it is a fairly accurate assessment of how I fear most of us are feeling this morning.
I wasn't ready for this to be over. In my head, this season went far longer than this. I'm not sure where I thought it would end, but it wouldn't be in St. Louis, not in the round of 32. It would end somewhere, maybe in Houston, but not here, and not now. I wasn't ready for this to be over.
I work on Sunday nights, and I spent a lot of this most recent one burning data on my phone so I didn't miss a moment of this game. In the winter, Byron and Joe are my constant companions in a car that seems to shrink with every frigid northern Ohio night. The three of us were together again on Sunday, and I was sure this wasn't over. When the brilliant freshman Edmond Sumner shook free and gave Xavier a three point lead with 34 seconds to play, I was celebrating right along with the rest of Xavier Nation. This wasn't over!
Only, it was. I could talk about those 34 seconds, and maybe some day I will. I could talk about Bronson Koenig living the dream that every basketball player has, I could talk about Ed getting the ball in crunch time, I could talk about one more bad call in a season littered with them. I could, anyway, if I had the energy. I don't right now, and I hope I never actually have to see that shot.
I wasn't ready for this to be over because there is something special about Xavier Nation. Unlike the other "nations" that spring up, Xavier's is a smaller, more close knit, group. It's possible to interact with the people that make the Xavier athletics department work. Aside from that, Xavier just spawns a more connected fanbase. There's a pulse during games that is almost possible to feel from the Cintas to the social media so readily available to everyone. The reaction of the Nation on Twitter to the end of this game was that of thousands of moments of individual anguish and one collective hundred yard stare. This was The Team, this was The Year. No one was ready for it to be over. No could move. Was this really over?
Scattered throughout the celebrating Badgers on Sunday were little pockets of white. That this was over was made more obvious by looking at the still impossibly young and tearstained face of Edmond Sumner or the beshirted head of Myles Davis, the team's unquestioned leader. Another flash of white the camera found was a stunned Remy Abell. For three years he'd made the Sweet 16 and for 40 minutes on Sunday he played like a man determined to make another. As Koenig whirled away to step into history, Remy simply stood with his arms up. When this season ended, when it finally was over, Xavier's senior starter was the first to know.
For 40 minutes everyone on Xavier fought, really. As Coach Mack said after the game, the team didn't play badly. JP was magnificent in the first half, rousing the Musketeers when it seemed like one of those catastrophically bad starts was in store. Jalen Reynolds was once again amazing in a March Madness game, a 6-10 freak of nature flicking the ball over the head of an opposing guard before running it down and cramming it home. Kaiser Gates continued to be a tantalizing glimpse into a bright future. With 34 seconds, just 34 seconds, it seemed like this team, The Team, would survive a slow night from Trevon and come out the other side. Surely the leading scorer would show up next week and torch Notre Dame for 20+ while looking almost preternaturally unconcerned. No, this wasn't over. 34 seconds to go!
34 seconds later a season that started for me when my wife sent me the picture that now sits on my desk was over. In that picture my son, all not even four feet of him, is standing with his "friends" Myles, Trevon Bluiett, and Matt Stainbrook at Xavier's annual softball game. Myles is signing an autograph and all four guys are laughing. I wasn't ready for this to be over because Xavier isn't like every other incredibly successful basketball program in the nation. At Xavier Coach Mack arranges a fitness program for kids, buys them all tickets, and then shoots on the court with them after a conference game. At Xavier the players look dreadful playing softball and then mingle with fans, laughing and hanging out like the college kids they are.
Xavier is Matt Stainbrook reprising his role as a Uber driver for a hype video, Xavier is Father Graham waving a shirt over his head as the clock ticks down on a win, Xavier is Jalen Reynolds being an utter monster on the court and then happily posing for a picture on his mom's lap, Xavier is Byron and Joe greeting people in the hallways of the Cintas. It's the basketball program you're proud to call yourself both a fan of, and a tiny participant in.
None of us were ready for this to be over, but it is. Xavier will not make the Sweet 16 this year. James Farr has pulled on the jersey for the final time. Myles will not be throwing his sign language three high over his head again until November. I'm not ready for this to be over, but it is.