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The ending hurt, but it doesn’t overshadow the journey

March 19th, 2023

SACRAMENTO, CA–I don’t want to paint with too broad a brush here. I think there are a lot of Mizzou fans who, even in the wake of a 78-63 loss that you just didn’t think was supposed to happen, can appreciate the bigger picture. Perspective is pretty rare for sports fans, especially online, but there are some who have it and I want to make sure the next couple of paragraphs don’t offend those who do.

I think there are people out there who are going to want this column to be something it won’t be. Some are going to want some fire and some anger and some ranting. How could this happen? Where were the hard questions? How can you never use the words embarrassing or inexcusable?

Because it wasn’t. It was just sports. I’m not embarrassed by it. You shouldn’t be either. Missouri lost a game to a team that it has been better than most of the season and a team that it would probably be better than on most nights. But it wasn’t on this night. And so while Princeton goes to Louisville and plays in the game that almost all of us thought Missouri was going to be playing in, the Tigers go home.

You know who had perspective in the immediate aftermath of the loss? Dennis Gates. And his players.


Were they upset? Sure. Hurt? Almost certainly. But asked in the wake of a loss that ended their season and meant that this particular team will never play another game what they wanted to be remembered for, a group of men much younger than me and probably most of the people reading this were able to strike the right chord.

“Laying a foundation, building that culture back in Columbia, getting those fans back involved,” senior Tre Gomillion said. “Just doing things we did. We weren’t supposed to be here at all in the first place. We weren’t supposed to make it to the semifinals of the SEC. I mean, at the end of the day we lost today, but we have a lot to be proud of. So I’ll say that.”

Of course it was Gomillion that said it perfectly. He didn’t play on the final weekend of his college career. He was in tears before the win over Utah State on Thursday—Missouri’s first in the NCAA Tournament in 13 years and yes, absolutely, that should be stated again—because his groin injury wouldn’t allow him to go. So he sat on the bench and he cheered and he coached and he did every single thing he could do to will his teammates to the Sweet 16. But they came up short.

“I just want to be remembered as a group of guys who loved each other on and off the court,” Ben Sternberg said. “We were together every day at the crib, in the gym obviously. Not only that, but we want to be known as, like, the steppingstone for Coach. Coach, obviously it’s his first year. We want him to create the culture here. Now the teams to come will follow us.”

Sternberg started with Gates as a Cleveland State manager. Then a Cleveland State walk-on. Than a Mizzou walk-on more renowned for his video blogs than his action on the floor including the final seconds on Saturday. Gates wanted him—and Gomillion and D’Moi Hodge and Mabor Majak—at Missouri because he wanted a living, breathing example of the culture he was trying to instill at Missouri. Mission accomplished.

“Going to Mizzou wasn’t a hard decision for me, especially playing for Coach at Cleveland State,” Hodge said. “Just building the foundation of what we know he can be and what his goals are was really good. The Mizzou fans backing us and having faith in us to come in here and do what we do means a lot for the Columbia community. I thank them for embracing me and my team.”

Hodge was a damn good player in the Horizon League. And then he was a damn good one in the Southeastern Conference and the leading scorer for Mizzou in that Thursday win over Utah State.

No more than 30 minutes after the final game of their college careers—because none of these three or DeAndre Gholston can come back—they were able to appreciate the ride they took. And the ride they took all of us on.

Some might think this is the easy way out. Why am I not focused more on the fact Missouri lost to a 15 seed in the NCAA Tournament? Where’s the anger and frustration that the Tigers had a Sweet 16 appearance there for the taking and couldn’t grab it?

That’s one story of Saturday. No doubt. If you’d handed Princeton coach Mitch Henderson a piece of paper before the game and told him to write his script, it couldn’t possibly have differed much from what occurred. Princeton destroyed Missouri on the boards, bullied them in the paint on both ends and when they convinced Gates he needed to go to a zone defense to stop the bleeding from inside Ryan Longborg and Blake Peters bombed away to the tune of 9-of-20 from three-point range and kept Missouri at bay for a full 40 minutes. Princeton isn’t a better team than Missouri on every day. But it was a better one on this day.

“We were able to get the lead one time,” Gates said. “Every time we got the lead or when they had the lead, we cut it to six, they came back down and did what a good team would do: make a shot or make a play. It just wasn’t our day to make those plays or make the same shots.

“They were the better team today.”

Yeah, that’s one story. That’s the story of this day. It’s not the one I want to tell. It’s not the story of this team.

“I’ve always appreciated my guys from the very, very beginning of our conversations and journey,” Gates said. “They’ve done a tremendous job. They’ve done everything that I’ve asked them to do. They’ve done even more, right?

“What they’ve been able to do together is 20 years from now we’ll look back, 10 years now from we’ll look back, five years from now we’ll look back and see how important it was what they’ve done.”

Some might not think tonight is the night for that appreciation? But why not? If they can put it in perspective immediately after the game, shouldn’t we be able to do the same? They’ve put more into it than we have. It probably hurts them more than it does any of us.

Embarrassing? Inexcusable? Nah. Not at all.

It was a bad ending to an incredible ride. Just like Utah State’s was two days ago and 65 other endings will be. If the end doesn’t hurt, the journey wasn’t worth it. So it’s fine that it hurts right now. But it can’t erase what happened along the way.

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This content was originally sourced and posted at Yahoo! Sports – News, Scores, Standings, Rumors, Fantasy Games »
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