POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. - You've probably heard it more times than you can count from a coach whose team had just laid a giant, foul smelling egg on the court behind him.
"We had no heart tonight."
"We just couldn't find the energy."
"We just didn't have it."
No one ever asks the proper follow-up question, "Why? Why this game?"
Maybe there's no good answer. Psychologically, it's impossible to bring the same commitment on 30 nights, I get that. But there are some performances that just seem particularly inexcusable.
Restaurants and diners might have the same problem, but my taste buds aren't sophisticated enough to notice most of the time. I heard about the Red Line Diner in Fishkill - about 15 miles south of Poughkeepsie on the Hudson River - in the preseason, so I of course had to partake on a crisp, but beautiful Sunday afternoon. The place was packed, but I was told there was no truth to the rumor that it was due to the fact that the Red Line was nearing extinction.
Alas, I asked around and couldn't get a good reason why the diner was named for the Red Line, except that "there are a lot of red lines outside around here".
The place was Greek, the food was very good, and as a closet soccer fan, I was glad to be able to watch the second half of the Tottenham-Arsenal match before heading up to Marist for the first time this season, which was kind of disappointing, it's a beautiful ride when the weather is nice like it was Sunday.
Fairfield entered Sunday afternoon's regular-season finale with Marist coming off a 34-31 loss to Manhattan Friday night. Yes, the two teams combined for 65 points. It was comical for us on the outside, but it couldn't have done wonders for Fairfield's confidence.
The Red Foxes have played better of late and are traditionally much tougher at intimate McCann Arena, but logic would dictate the Stags should have been given a boost just before tip-off when Loyola was able to hold off Manhattan in Baltimore. A win over Marist - who would be the No. 8 seed in this week's MAAC Tournament regardless - would put the Stags in sixth, extremely important because they would avoid the opening night 7-10 and 8-9 games.
Instead, Fairfield basically no-showed Sunday's game and Marist rolled to a 73-60 victory that would have been worse had the Red Foxes (and there was a lot of red in this game) not missed 20 free throws. It became irrelevant because Marist won easily, but Chavaughn Lewis scored 24 points with a #superhoop, yet went 5-for-13 from the free throw line, which included not one but two airballs, bizarre for a guy with 23 superhoops on the season (and averaging 16.5 points per game). Center Adam Kemp's misses from the foul line were a little more excusable, but his stat line was humorous: 14 points and 11 rebounds, but 2-for-3 from the field and 10-for-20 from the free throw line. Strange.
Anyway, back to the dilemma of Fairfield, it obviously all can't be heart, they were certainly trying to win and play well. Does confidence play a big role? Senior leader and point guard Derek Needham is in a horrific shooting slump, just 1-for-9 on Sunday. Could that be contagious and sap the energy from the rest of the squad? The officials? As you could tell from Kemp and Lewis' numbers, Fairfield had a ton of fouls, 30 in all, which wreaked havoc with substitution patterns.
The opposing gym? McCann Arena is oddly shaped, almost if you had made your dining room about 100 times larger and put bleachers in, almost a perfect rectangle with few seats on the sidelines and more behind the baskets. The Stags trailed by double digits for most of the first half and did get as close as four midway through the second, but you never did get the feeling they were getting back into the game.
But, as even Sydney Johnson would admit, those are just excuses. And yet Fairfield is not alone and won't be the last favorite team to fall flat in March. As the final seconds wound down, and I collected my Rik Smits bobblehead doll (sadly, Smits couldn't make the trip back to his alma mater for the 25th anniversary of his numbers being retired due to back problems), my mind was racing, trying to find some way to explain how Fairfield could dig out of a 2-6 MAAC hole to avoid that first round game only to let it slip away with a performance like this.
It's something that all the computer numbers in the world can't explain and happens to every coach at one time or another (albeit fewer occurrences for the more successful coaches). All of them in Our Game know that they are soon one egg from the end of their 2012-13.
And that's what makes March so fun.