Seasons don't have to end in a loss. At least not one on the court. The Ivy League proves it each season. On the final Saturday of the season half of the league had a chance to finish the regular season with a victory. Columbia, which was playing Dartmouth, had one of the best chances.
It was Senior Night and after a long Ivy League season in which Columbia had redefined the meaning of gut-wrenching loss the Lions had to refocus. They'd lost to Harvard the night before by the slimmest of margins. It was a chance to do something epic in front of a packed house and national media. The game went to overtime. Columbia lost by seven in the extra session.
That meant Saturday was also an opportunity to redeem the season a little bit. With a win Kyle Smith's team could still finish .500 on the season. Considering that all but a few players would be coming back, it'd be a way to gain some momentum for 2012-13.
Why were they already looking towards next season? Well, in the Ivy League there's no conference tournament. It's the only league where you can't earn your way into the NCAA tournament during a crazy week in March. To be honest, I'm okay with that. They're thinking about changing it. It'd be the wrong decision.
Because right now a season can end in a win, which is exactly what happened in Levien Gym that night. Chris Crockett, Steve Egee, Matt Johnson and Blaise Staab received their plaques and were thanked for their service to the school. Then the four of them started the game. It was a nice gesture and in Smith's words it was also a way to "shorten the game" for the rest of the rotation after the grueling marathon against the Crimson 24 hours earlier.
Understandably, Columbia started off slow. Egee, Johnson and Staab had earned their playing time during the season from their defensive prowess. Crockett is a shooter, but he was 1-4 from the field. At the end of the half it was 23-22 Lions.
Then in the second half a sophomore, Meiko Lyles, went off. The shots started going down and he scored 20 of his 23 points in the final 20 minutes. He finished 8-12 from the field and 5-6 from three-point line. Thanks to Lyle's three-point shooting, and 7-15 overall from beyond the arc, the Lions took home a 61-55 victory.
The season ended in a win for Columbia, but it ended. At 15-15 (4-10) there would be no postseason, not even a ghost tournament, for the Lions. The season might not have ended with a loss on the court, but it did end with that feeling of emptiness. The thing they'd work hard for since October and before had come to a close.
Afterwards the players that came to speak with the media were an interesting mix of emotions. Egee joked about how he was the first Columbia player ever invited to a press conference after scoring four points. They all seemed pleased. That moment on March 3, 2012 wasn't time for reflecting. (It wasn't time to look ahead either, even though a pesky blogger kept asking about it.) It was time to enjoy one final victory.
I don't know what has happened during the past two weeks, but I've seen countless seasons end in a loss during that time. I've wondered how it changes a team's feelings about the season. Does being able to savor the last result make everything seem a little bit sweeter? Or does it make you wonder, "What could've been?" I guess it probably depends on the player, the team and the moment.
But for a few teams it didn't have to end in a loss on the court. Instead, the feeling of loss was something bigger, it was finality.
at COLUMBIA 61, DARTMOUTH 55 03/03/2012
DARTMOUTH 5-25 (1-13) -- J. Golden 0-5 0-0 0; G. Maldunas 2-9 6-8 10; J. Brooks 4-5 9-10 17; D. Rufful 2-5 0-1 4; R. Griffin 3-5 5-6 12; T. Melville 3-6 0-0 6; J. Trotter 2-5 0-0 4; M. LaBove 1-2 0-0 2; K. Crecco 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 17-42 20-25 55. COLUMBIA 15-15 (4-10) -- B. Barbour 2-6 4-4 9; M. Lyles 8-12 2-2 23; M. Cisco 7-10 1-5 15; C. Crockett 1-4 1-2 4; J. Daniels 1-2 4-5 6; S. Egee 2-4 0-0 4; C. Osetkowski 0-2 0-0 0; A. Rosenberg 0-4 0-0 0; M. Johnson 0-0 0-0 0; B. Staab 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 21-46 12-18 61.
Three-point goals: DART 1-11 (J. Trotter 0-2; D. Rufful 0-2; R. Griffin 1-2; T. Melville 0-2; J. Golden 0-3), COLU 7-15 (C. Crockett 1-3; S. Egee 0-2; B. Staabq 0-1; B. Barbour 1-2; M. Lyles 5-6; A. Rosenberg 0-1); Rebounds: DART 25 (J. Brooks 7), COLU 31 (M. Cisco 9); Assists: DART 6 (G. Maldunas 2), COLU 14 (B. Barbour 5); Total Fouls -- DART 21, COLU 20; Fouled Out: DART-None; COLU-M. Cisco.