LAS VEGAS — Don’t call it a failure.
Disappointment? Definitely. Heart-wrenching for the players and their fans? Absolutely.
It seemed the Seattle U men’s basketball team returning to the NCAA tournament after 53 years was a real possibility. Alas, their dancing shoes will remain in the closet.
Sixth-seeded Abilene Christian, in the midst of its own fairy-tale ride, upset the second-seeded Redhawks 78-76 in the WAC tournament semifinals. Seattle U got a show-stopping effort from guard Darrion Trammell, who dropped 39 points but received little help elsewhere.
The result dashed the NCAA tournament hopes for a program coming off its first WAC regular-season title. Not the result anyone not wearing an Abilene Christian jersey wanted, but that’s part of the madness that goes with this month.
Even so, Seattle U (23-9) put together a season that’s worth taking pride in. This was a team whose coach resigned in early November amid a racial controversy. It was a team that hadn’t posted a winning record in conference play in its three previous years.
The program was an afterthought when the season began — then it became a legitimate story.
“Not the way we wanted to finish our season, but I couldn’t be more proud of this group. It’s a special season for our university,” said Redhawks coach Chris Victor, who took over as interim coach before shedding the interim tag at the beginning of the month. “We’re leaving that locker room proud. There’s a lot to be proud of.”
Still, pride is likely not the prevailing emotion among Seattle U players right now. Frustration and regret probably reign supreme. Trammell was spectacular, posting a career high while going 10 of 21 from the field and 17 of 20 from the line. The assistance just wasn’t there, though.
Cameron Tyson was solid in scoring 14 points on 5 of 12 shooting. But Riley Grigsby — who came into the contest averaging 13 points per game, was held to just 6 Friday night.
Perhaps the most notable statistic was how often Seattle U fouled. Abilene Christian shot 39 free throws, 28 of which came in the second half (the Wildcats made 28 from the foul line for the game). The Redhawks were able to find their way to the line as well, making 20 of 27 free throws on the day. But if you’re looking for the difference Friday — free-throw shooting, as well as Seattle U committing 19 turnovers to the Abilene Christian’s seven — is where you’re going to find it.
Despite all that, Seattle U was in the game until the final buzzer sounded. But like Washington the night before, they just couldn’t find the bucket when they needed it at the end.
With Abilene Christian up by a point with a minute to go, the Redhawks’ Emeka Udneyi was blocked at the rim. After Trammell got an offensive rebound, Vas Pandza missed a three. On the next trip down, Trammell missed a three, which led to a foul and a made free throw for the Wildcats, who took a four-point lead. Seattle U never recovered.
Asked about his virtuoso performance, Trammell said, “I gave my team what I needed,” but he was obviously not in the mood to celebrate.
It’s hard to say what’s next for this program. It’s unlikely they will get an NIT bid. Other tournaments such as the CBI are out there, but it’s unclear whether the Redhawks will want to participate.
Victor said after the game that it was “a tough way to end the season,” perhaps indicating they don’t plan on pursuing anything in the postseason. Either way, they’ve accomplished enough.
After the game, Tyson, a Bothell native, was asked about coming back to Seattle after playing for Houston’s Final Four team last year. He had nothing but positive energy.
“It’s been amazing,” Tyson said. “Of course, not the ending we wanted, but the way the team believed in me, the way they recruited me, I wouldn’t want to be nowhere else in the country.”
This wasn’t the Cinderella season folks back in Seattle were hoping for, but it was still a season to remember. Heads are hanging now, but they shouldn’t be for long,