Just Not Right

There are a lot of things that just aren't right in this world, and one of them is the way in which the group of kids that rescued the Mountaineer basketball program bowed out of the NCAA tournament on Thursday night.

This team deserved a better ending than the gut-wrenching, last second three-pointer by Texas' Kenton Paulino that ended the careers of Kevin Pittsnogle, Joe Herber, J.D. Collins, Mike Gansey and Patrick Beilein. I know that any loss would have been tough, and that tears would have been shed in the locker room regardless. But to lose a game after mounting a magnificent rally that made the football team's comeback against Louisville look like child's play just isn't right.

It's not right that this group will have to watch the last fifteen seconds of this game for the next forty or fifty years -- because, unfortunately, it's the kind of ending that CBS will show and use again and again when it promotes the NCAA tournament. And while that's certainly isn't a malicious move by the network, it's not going to make seeing it any easier, or any less painful.

If you haven't figured it out by now, this isn't going to be an objective piece of writing. If you need that, look elsewhere. Because, stunned as I was by the turn of events in the final seconds on the floor of the Georgia Dome, I was even more profoundly affected by the way this group of players ended their careers at West Virginia.

When Paulino's double-clutched shot somehow went in, the seniors managed to gather themselves and go through the line to shake hands with their jubilant Texas foes. Then, after just a few minutes of privacy in the locker room, they were subjected to the media horde, of which I was a part.

As I went into the room, I had both my recorder and camera ready, but somehow I just couldn't take any photos. There were personal moments still being played out -- hugs, words of encouragement, tears -- and although I was well withing my rights to shoot those scenes, I simply didn't feel it was right. Of course, with that outlook, I'm probably not going to win many Pulitzer Prizes, but I can live with that. I just didn't feel like those images should necessarily be recorded and shared.

So, instead of diving right in, I stepped back. I watched as the seniors relived those painful moments at the end of the game, and struggled to put into words the feelings they were experiencing. And when I finally did ask a few questions, I did my best to frame them positively, because the last thing this group deserved was to be beaten up for coming up one shot short against a great team.

It's just not right that this team will be remembered by some people for coming up short in this game. These people will find fault with the way WVU played on Texas' last mad rush down the floor, or the rebounding margin, or some other fool statistic. That's not the legacy of these seniors, and it surely isn't their defining moment.

As several other Blue & Gold News staffers have noted over the past few weeks, it has been a privilege to cover this team. And while I have, for the most part, been able to retain my objectivity while covering this group of players over the last four years, I'll freely admit that I didn't have one bit of neutrality as I questioned the Fantastic Five for the last time. And you know what, I'm not going to apologize for that, either. Because, faced with the ultimate stomach-punch ending to a game, a season and a career, each and every one of the players faced it with heads held high.

Certainly, there were different emotions on display, but every senior answered every question. No one hid out in the shower. No one ducked queries. For goodness, sake, several of them were even able to offer smiles and philsophical viewpoints. Which, I'll again admit, I certainly wasn't able to do, and probably won't be for at least a few weeks.

Maybe only a group with a character as strong as this one possessed would be able to take such a devastating blow and respond as it did. Maybe that's a sign of just how special these five seniors really were. One thing I do know at this point, however, is that they did themselves, and West Virginia University, proud under the most difficult of circumstances. And that's the one thing that certainly was right.

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