Luckily it was only the conference tournament; the states were still to come. But as we walked out of the gym that day, I turned to our senior captain, and said, with probably a little too much affect, "You now know your next loss will be your last."
If this kid wasn't the best player we've ever coached, she was certainly the one who worked the hardest and improved the most over the four years. But that also means she was probably the least ready for her career to be over.
She replied, "That's OK, there's not going to be another loss. We're winning the whole thing."
While I loved the confidence, I knew what the next line was even if I didn't share it.
Brandon Hall first came to my attention when I saw Saint Peter's play last month, working his butt off and never giving up despite a loss to Loyola. Last season at this time, Hall was a junior role player on a NCAA Tournament team. Friday night, he was the senior leader of a team that, for lack of a better term, fell apart at the end of the season, losers of 12 of their last 13 heading into their last stand, the first round of the MAAC against favored Marist.
The atmosphere was what you'd expect; although Marist had a decent showing, you had to work to find someone rooting for Saint Peter's. Overall, the MassMutual Center was probably 10 percent full. But, to their credit, the Peacocks weren't going down without a fight. Behind leading scorer Darius Conley, they led for much of the first half before falling down by seven just out of the locker room.
By the eight-minute mark, though, the Peacocks had a three-point lead back, but that was it. The Red Foxes, who had played fairly well in the last month of the season, and had legend Rik Smits on hand to watch, got back to back #superhoops by freshman Chavaughn Lewis (it seems like everyone on the tournament's first day was a freshman), and never relinquished the lead.
Down six with three minutes left, Hall stole the ball, quickly got into the frontcourt, saw an open teammate out of the corner of his eye, and threw the ball away.
Hall stared on nothing in particular and looked toward the ceiling, coach John Dunne -- who I'm sure has had a trying time this season -- tried to get him focused, "Next play!", and Hall was back to his energetic self, but his instincts of a long basketball career told him it was probably over.
Still, now down 10 with less than a minute to go, Hall -- who only averaged 3.3 points per game, and only had four Friday to that point -- took on the role of Thomas' protagonist. He had back-to-back layups to cut the lead to six. He got another steal and scored a total of eight points in the final 44 seconds.
But, as it always does, the light died, Saint Peter's ran out of time, and Marist advanced with a 64-57 win.
Hall frustratingly untucked his jersey, put his hands on his head and looked to the scoreboard, drifting into the handshake line. As he went down the tunnel for the last time, Dunne put his arm on Hall's shoulder, a touching scene that likely didn't have many for the Peacocks this season.
I don't know Hall at all, but I wish him the best in his future endeavors, and I enjoyed his passion in the two times I saw him this season.
Not as much as I enjoyed watching our senior transform from a little freshman to a kid who led us to one of our best seasons in the last 15 years.
Alas, her career, like Hall's, came to an end Thursday night after a good run in the state tournament.
And as, with tears flowing, she left for the last time as a high school player, I was finally able to let her in on our secret.
It always ends in a loss.
MARIST 64, SAINT PETER'S 57 03/02/2012
SAINT PETER'S 5-26 (4-14) -- Q. Ford 5-10 6-10 18; L. Fulton 5-13 0-1 12; B. Hall 5-9 2-3 12; C. Burke 0-5 0-0 0; D. Conley 9-14 1-1 19; B. Ffrench 4-5 2-4 10; Y. Raymond 0-3 0-0 0; M. Tucker 2-3 0-0 4; C. Prescott 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 25-54 5-9 57. MARIST 14-17 (7-11) -- D. Price 4-12 4-6 14; C. Lewis 6-9 3-6 17; J. Bowie 5-11 3-5 14; A. Kemp 1-6 2-6 4; I. Morton 1-3 0-0 2; R. Hall 3-4 4-4 10; P. Prinsloo 0-1 0-0 0; M. Thomas 1-1 0-0 3; A. Alexis 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-47 16-27 64.
Three-point goals: SPC 2-11 (C. Prescott 0-1; B. Hall 0-2; C. Burke 0-1; L. Fulton 2-7), MAR 6-13 (D. Price 2-5; J. Bowie 1-3; C. Lewis 2-3; I. Morton 0-1; M. Thomas 1-1); Rebounds: SPC 31 (D. Conley 13), MAR 25 (J. Bowie 7); Assists: SPC 15 (B. Ffrench 4), MAR 10 (D. Price 3); Total Fouls -- SPC 20, MAR 12; Fouled Out: SPC-D. Conley; MAR-None.