Four days after USI’s men’s basketball season went up in smoke in a loss to Michigan Tech in the first game of the NCAA Midwest Regional, Eagles coach Rodney Watson still seems a bit stunned. When I talked to him for my season wrapup/look-ahead story, I asked him how disappointed he was at the ending and here’s what he said (with the help of some editing to get it to make sense):
“It’s disappointing. It was an odd season. When we were putting together a really nice season, it never seemed like we could settle in. Then we played so extraordinarily well in the conference tournament (which USI won for its second GLVC title in three years). We finally had seemed to settle in.”
Then came the loss to Michigan Tech at Drury in Springfield, Mo.
“It was a really good college game. And our guys played their hearts out. We played fearless, not tight, not overly loose. My frustration was I didn’t want to get on that bus at 4 o’clock and come home. The other thing was we put a lot into this. We were 12-2 the last four years the first week of March and 1-4 in the second week. Does that put a brick on our shoulders? I’m not gonna kid you — it does. We’re playing good teams and you hope that maybe you get over that hump.”
Now the season is over and USI will begin spring workouts shortly, in April.
“What stinks is you start your whole individual workouts again and go through the summer and go through the fall and in the blink of an eye, after you’ve worked so hard to get invited to the party and you want to stay for a long time, it’s over. (There’s) probably a little bit of luck involved, but here’s where a few little things add up and they matter. At the end of the day I’m saying, hey, this was the game: to go 14 of 25 at the free-throw line. At the end of the day, there was very little satisfaction with the way it ended.”
He keeps being reminded of it, too. Such as when Watson’s out recruiting, people tell him how amazed they are when they hear the team ended up 25-6. But he knows better.
“They’re saying, ‘Wow, what a great season.’ But we work at a place where the expectations are high. At least, the way we are wired, that’s how you want it. Now you retool all over again and hope to get a spot at the party. Certainly, it’s not satisfying, I tell you that. We’re appreciative of everything the kids did. It’s just (that) the way it ended wasn’t satisfying. This is not what you want.”