ST. LOUIS — If there were tears, they happened behind closed doors and away from prying eyes.
And thats a big if.
No. 2 Wichita State seemed tough enough to handle anything this season huge deficits, huge expectations, huge amounts of attention and ultimately, after Sundays 78-76 loss to Kentucky ended the Shockers hopes for an undefeated season and a national championship, a devastated postgame locker room showed it could also handle a loss.
In the players eyes, there was a lot of pain. In their voices, there was a lot of strength.
Stretched across the locker room theyd inhabited for the better part of two of the last three weeks in the Scottrade Center, first for the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament and then for the last four days for the NCAA Tournament, the Shockers went chins up and answered every question about the disappointment that came with the defeat.
WSU junior guard Tekele Cotton waited about 10 seconds before trying to describe how he felt. That part didnt come, but the part after was telling.
Honestly, at this time I dont really know how I feel right now, I cant say, Cotton said. We were prepared, our coaches got us prepared (Kentucky) just got the better end of it.
After the game, (WSU coach Gregg Marshall) told us to stick together, to keep grinding.
Cotton was at the far end of the left side of the locker room, sitting by himself. To his left, John Robert Simon, Evan Wessel and Shaq Morris sat slumped against their lockers. A huge part of the disappointment, Wessel said, was that this group would never be together again.
I think thats most of it, of knowing our season is over and the great group of guys we had and realizing we wont play with them again, said Wessel, a sophomore guard and Heights product. Right now, thats the hardest part. We had a great run and its tough that it had to come to an end the way it did. We were in it for every second.
Senior Chadrack Lufile draped an arm around teammate, roommate, fellow Canadian and fellow senior Nick Wiggins as Wiggins answered questions about the loss.
Its not just a tough loss for the seniors, its a tough loss for the guys coming back, Wiggins said. You strive for perfection, you dont want anything less than that.
Lufile stretched out along the locker bay after awhile red maple-leaf tattoos on the front of both of his shoulders and also took the loss head-on.
I want to say our season speaks for itself, that we dont have any regrets, but its a lot harder after a loss to put it in perspective, Lufile said. Were happy we put ourselves in this position, but thats about it.
Sitting in the locker bay down from Lufile and Wiggins, freshman Zach Bush walked over and thanked both of them and told them hed miss him. Both responded with hugs.
Next to Bush, junior Darius Carter, senior Kadeem Coleby, redshirt Rian Holland and freshman Derail Green sat, quietly scrolling through their phones.
Not being able to be around the team that we have is a big part of it because were like a family, Carter said. These guys brought me in, in my first year, and made me feel a part of this from the beginning, made me feel that way every single day. Its all love. (Marshall) told us to keep our heads up and keep grinding, so thats what well do.
No one goes through life without experiencing some form of disappointment public or private that leaves you reeling in some form.
What matters, ultimately, is how you bounce back.
After each of their 35 straight wins, the Shockers showed they werent only gracious, but they were determined.
Sunday, the Shockers showed they could be just as resilient in the face of defeat.