By Kevin Sweeney
Midnight strikes to officially bring us to March 1.
I, along with many other college basketball fans, immediately head to Twitter to be greeted with something like this:
Tweet after tweet reading the same mantra: This is March.
We see this slogan, and we immediately think of buzzer-beaters, upsets, dog-piles at center court, and fans rushing the court with glee.
However, this past weekend at the MAAC Tournament, I realized there is another half of March, and boy is it tough to watch.
Seniors staring blankly as they come to the realization that their collegiate careers are over. Players crying uncontrollably as they begin to comprehend that they’ve come an inch or two short of the goal they had worked so hard to accomplish.
This is also March.
The two games from this weekend’s tournament that will stick with me forever were Monmouth vs Siena on Sunday and Iona vs Siena on Monday in the championship game. There was incredible basketball played in both of those games, but that’s not what I will remember most. I’ll remember witnessing the raw emotion of players I’d seen play for four years come up just short of their NCAA Tournament aspirations.
First, it was Monmouth on Sunday evening. The Hawks saw a 17-point second half slip away and fell 89-85 at the hands of the Saints, seeing a second straight season end in which they dominated the regular season before stumbling in the conference tournament.
Senior guard Justin Robinson chewed on his jersey, trying unsuccessfully to hold back tears. Fellow senior Josh James, whose technical foul seemed to swing momentum to the Saints, was inconsolable as he sprinted down the tunnel towards the locker room. Even an hour later, as the Hawks emerged from the locker room, many did so wearing hoods with tears still in their eyes. Later, more Hawks seniors stood on the concourse level surrounded by friends and family, in a mood as somber as a wake or funeral.
The next night, it was Siena, who had experienced the euphoria of March Madness the previous night, that faced the devastation of March when they came up just short in overtime to Iona. The more than 1,700 students (about 57% of the student population at Siena) that had been rowdy from tip all the sudden went silent when the dreams of storming the floor to the tune of “We Are the Champions” floated away just as Nico Clareth’s 3 for the win had floated wide left.
Point guard Marquis Wright began bawling as soon as the buzzer sounded, as his meaningless 35-foot heave swished through the net. Clareth just sat there on the hardwood, unable to believe that it was over. Javion Ogunyemi, who had missed a few early free throws but dominated the offensive glass to keep the Saints alive, was consoled by his father as he went down the tunnel while Iona celebrated on the Saints’ home court.
It was simply unfathomable to see the emotional rollercoaster for the Saints, from listless early in the second half vs Monmouth to the jubilation of a thrilling comeback, then to stunned disbelief that their seasons and careers were over, all in the span of about 30 hours.
But in many ways, that summarizes March. Those emotions make this month my favorite of the year, even when I am moved to tears seeing the heartbreak of others.
Only 68 teams fulfill their dream. The other 283? They experience the other side of this glorious month.