All the hard work put on the practice court, the long road trips, the film sessions, all the time spent preparing for a conference championship came to a close during a nine-minute stretch on Friday.
With the Bearkats up 40-37 at halftime of their semifinal game of the Southland Conference against the University of Texas at Arlington, the Mavericks came out of the break on an 18-2 run over the half’s first nine minutes, where the Mavericks took control of the game and effectively ended the Bearkats’ season.
Though the Bearkats clawed their way back, unlike the day prior with their dramatic come-from-behind victory over McNeese State in the first round, the Bearkats fell 72-66 to the Mavericks and for the second consecutive year and were forced to watch the Southland Conference Championship game from the sidelines.
An unseemly ending to an otherwise highly successful year.
The stars had aligned themselves to give SHSU a season to remember. Ryan Bright, the Bearkats’ leading scorer and holder of numerous awards, had a chance to take his team to the one thing which had escaped him in his career at SHSU: a conference championship.
John Gardiner, suffering a freak knee injury the summer prior, had postponed his departure from the basketball program for one more year. The team was better than the squad which was second in conference last season and was ready for a third conference championship for head coach Bob Marlin.
When the season started, few would have thought that it wouldn’t have ended with Bright cutting down the nets in Katy. The Bearkats started out 10-0 and received votes in the AP Top 25 poll for the first time since the program entered Division I competition.
Sadly, the early-season magic changed as the calendar moved to 2008 and the team couldn’t seem to get on a roll which would propel them further in March.
It would be easy to label the season as a failure, yet acknowledging this year as anything other than enjoyable would be insufficient and a slap in the face to the work the coaching staff and players put forth the past six months.
Sports are a form of entertainment, plain and simple; it seems this notion is sometimes skewed. Sports are meant to be enjoyed. Some may take it more seriously than others but at its core, they are games which most have played since they were little, with the results non-detrimental to one’s health. There should be no reason for a player to become angry or distraught over their team’s shortcomings in the postseason when they have the chance to acknowledge and appreciate the season they gave the fans.
No one can forget the second game of the season, the thousand plus fans waiting outside Johnson Coliseum more than an hour prior to the start of the game many had entitled “The Battle of the Bobs.”
Former Texas Tech head coach Bob Knight faced his friend Bob Marlin in the third largest crowd ever to see a game at the coliseum and second highest during the regular season. Watching Bob Knight coach provided the chance for many to see something that may never happen again. The fact that the Kats were able to defeat a Big XII opponent made the night all the more memorable.
Another memorable milestone of the season was the game against rival Stephen F. Austin. Southland Conference “Player of the Year” Josh Alexander made nearly every shot he took and claimed a victory in enemy territory before senior Shamir McDaniel hit the game-winning 3-pointer to quiet the small purple contingent preparing for an imminent victory.
At the forefront for four of the players will be Senior Night, the final emotional game for the group of seniors (Bright, McDaniel, Gardiner and Jeremy Thomas), three who spent four years playing and earned three consecutive 20-win seasons for the first time in school history. They gave those in attendance a show, blowing out the University of Texas at San Antonio by 31 to finish 52-8 at Johnson Coliseum during their tenure.
In the end, sports will always leave someone distraught at the conclusion of the season; it’s the nature of the beast. Perhaps most of the fun from sports should arise from the journey, not necessarily the end result, making a season that had its ups and downs fun nonetheless.