BUFFALO – The reality of the night and the scoreboard hits in a hurry. The finality is what smothers you first, especially for the seniors. That’s why Dan Hurley stopped when he hit the corridors of the KeyBank Center shortly after him Connecticut Huskies were booted out of the NCAA tournamenta second #5 seed here taken from a #12 seed, this time in the state of New Mexico.
Hurley had spotted Tyler Polley, a backup forward, out of the corner of his eye. And Polley, like seniors at 16 different schools on Thursday, reacted – he cried. Hurley was there. And Hurley knew what his job was.
“You,” he said to Polley, “have nothing – nothing – to be ashamed of.”
But Polley cried anyway, because for every ejaculation we see at these tournament games every year, there’s a downside. For each St. Peter’s Basilicathere is a Kentucky – and yes, Kentucky players are made of flesh, blood and tears too. For every Richmond There is an Iowa. And for every state of New Mexico there is a UConn.
“It sucks,” Hurley said as he summarized the tournament experience for Thursday’s half field.
Perhaps with time and distance, the Huskies and their trainers will understand that even if they hadn’t been at their best, they probably would have survived against most of the teams in the group.
But then most teams don’t have Teddy Allen.
But the Aggies do after Allen’s early college forays into West Virginia and Nebraska. Hurley himself had admired some of the things Allen could do.
“He’s amazing,” Hurley said with deep admiration on Wednesday.
He is. It must have been Thursday. Thursday he was every highlight of every basketball movie of all time, spliced together: a little “Hoosiers.” A little “quick break”. A little “fish that saved Pittsburgh”. He made absurd shots from beyond the 3-point arc. He drew foul after foul and then took all 13 of his foul shots. He scored 37 points. It felt like 57.
“I really didn’t feel like I was in a zone,” Allen said afterwards. “That’s how I play.”
His trainer, Chris Jans, didn’t want to disagree.
“What you saw tonight,” said Jans, “we see every day.”
Jans had been standing not far from the Richmond locker room when the Spiders ended their excitement in Iowa earlier in the day. He had heard them charge off the ground, heard them yell and yell and yell until their lungs could not take it anymore, and he smiled a lustful smile as he listened.
“Wouldn’t it be something,” he had said, “if we could do the same.”
Then the Aggies went out and did the same. They went into halftime with a 10-point lead. They extended the lead to 14. Then they were hanging for their lives as the Huskies — mostly RJ Cole (20 points, four assists) — squandered all but one point of the lead, on multiple occasions. But the Huskies came up just once, 58-58, with 2:06 left.
Then Allen made a rainbow 3-pointer, then two foul shots, then an old-fashioned three-pointer play. And the crowd, who had embraced New Mexico State in the opening minutes, let out the kind of roar reserved for those first two days of the tournament.
Except for the UConn section. They felt like Polley: consumed by reality, brought down by reality. Two straight seasons, the Huskies have qualified for the NCAA tournament only to be knocked out early from a lower set. Last year’s disappointment against Maryland had fueled this season so much. Now they were simply spent: nothing left to give.
“I love this team and I love coaching this team,” Hurley said before taking a break.
“It’s devastating,” he said.
For half of the teams in the field on Thursday – and another 16 on Friday – the crushing is only beginning to describe the hard truth on the other side of last buzzer.
https://nypost.com/2022/03/18/march-madness-2022-uconns-heartache-a-harsh-reality/ UConn’s heartache is a harsh reality