By any measure, this season ranks among the best in Old Dominion's three-plus decades of Division I basketball.
But it wasn't quite good enough.
Blaine Taylor. Such were the reasonable goals for a team that returned four starters from last year's second-round NCAA tournament run.
"We had hopes of making it to the Sweet 16 at least," senior forward Keyon Carter said. "That was the minimum we wanted to achieve."
Career over, dreams dashed, Carter spoke stoically Thursday afternoon following ODU's wrenching 60-58 NCAA tournament loss to Butler.
The Monarchs' locker room was noticeably free of the tears and red eyes that marked last season's elimination loss to Baylor. Perhaps they were numb from Matt Howard's loose-ball, buzzer-beating layup; perhaps they were angry about their own shortcomings.
"We picked a really bad time to play a poor game," Carter said.
Indeed, the staples of the nine-game winning streak ODU carried into Thursday vanished. Fierce rebounding, efficient offense and accurate shooting.
The national leaders in rebounding margin at plus-12.2, the Monarchs were outboarded (32-29) for only the second time. They shot 35.6 percent, a grim 22.7 in the second half. They committed 15 turnovers, three above their norm.
ODU had not been outrebounded since a Jan. 13 loss at Drexel, a stretch of 17 games and more than two months.
"I would have never guessed that (was possible) in a million years," Carter said. "When I saw the scouting report, I thought this would be a routine Old Dominion victory. …
"As badly as we played, it speaks to our resiliency that we were able to stay so close."
How close? Try 10 ties, 21 lead changes and no margin above six points.
As it should have been. These two "mid-majors" are that good, that similar, that fearless.
"It was a man's game," Taylor said.
A game decided on a freakish sequence in which ODU swarmed Shawn Vanzant, whose flip teammate Andrew Smith volleyballed to the weakside, where Howard was uncontested.
"He closed his eyes, slipped and threw up a prayer," Hassell said. "I should have fought harder on the backside."
A year ago, Butler's prayer went unanswered as Gordon Hayward's midcourt heave to slay Duke in the national championship game just missed.
"We showed that just because of what they did last year, we weren't afraid of them," Hassell said.
Good season not good enough for Old Dominion
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