By Rhett Lewis
One and done.
Although small in stature and letter count, the phrase “one and done” can be as cruel a fate as there is in sports.
An exit from college basketball’s postseason cuts deeper than any other competitive ending because of those three, tiny little words.
The GPC Jaguars experienced this for themselves Saturday night inside Panther Arena as they were defeated in the Georgia Collegiate Athletic Association championship game by the Gordon College Highlanders.
The final score was 73-60, although the game was much closer and highly contested than the score would indicate.
But that doesn’t matter. The only thing that does matter in the postseason is you lose one, you go home.
The Jaguars, regular season champions of the GCAA, had multiple opportunities to seize control and advance to the national tournament in Kansas starting on March 20.
The Jags took a one-point lead into the locker room at halftime, despite missing several close range shots and turning the ball over 13 times in the first half.
The second half was back and forth until the final few minutes, despite Gordon College attempting 15 more free throws than GPC and the Jags shooting a ragged 32% from the field.
Yet the Jaguars were within striking distance the entire second half and seemed to always be on the verge of putting together one of the patent second-half runs which usually propel them to victory.
But they didn’t strike. They didn’t run. And they didn’t win.
Gordon College did.
After the game head coach Alfred Barney was visible disappointed in the game’s final score, but not in his player’s effort and desire to win.
“The desire to win was there. I think the lack of execution down the stretch may have hurt us a little bit,” Barney said after the game.
Throughout every season there are times when a team doesn’t execute to their highest standard; you just hope it doesn’t happen in the postseason.
Unfortunately for the Jags, that’s exactly when it did happen.
A heart breaking loss always has the ability to derail a team, to rip apart the fabric that holds them together. Barney doesn’t see that happening with this team.
After the loss he remained with his players in the locker room longer than he usually did after most regular season games.
Upon exiting he calmly remarked, “Our motto is ‘It’s Family’ and even now we’re still together. I told our players that we’re going to fight, we’re going to have some disagreements, we’re going to lose some games. But that’s all right. Families do that.”
Even with the loss, the Jaguars had a great season by anyone’s standards.
They finished with a 25-8 record, won the regular season GCAA title, and fielded the Region Player of the Year, James Jonson, and Coach of the Year, Barney.
But postseason success is the ultimate prize and it is what players and coaches strive for.
“As successful as we were the whole year we feel like we fell a little short when we don’t go to the national tournament, which is our goal every year,” Barney said.
The old saying “there’s always next year” always holds true. There will be a next year and hopefully it will be filled with as much, and maybe more, success than this season.
There is, however, one small problem with the saying: it doesn’t make this year’s loss feel any better.