Buzz Williams and the rest of the Virginia Tech men's basketball team said all the right things before their NCAA Tournament showdown against Wisconsin.
They said it wasn't good enough to just make the field of 68. That their dreams, goals, and expectations had to be reset as they head into Buffalo. They wanted to come in, and make some noise too.
The best part? It wasn't just lip service. Buzz said it. Senior forward Zach LeDay said it. And you could see it in Seth Allen's eyes as the game came to a close, and the Badgers locked up their 84-74 win.
As the final seconds melted away, the Hokies' other elder statesman ran around the floor like a madman. He flung his body around in an effort to get an offensive rebound. He ran wildly, hoping to find himself in a passing lane to get the ball one more time. It didn't matter that the game was over. It didn't make a difference that in a season of late comebacks, this one fell short.
He looked like a man who didn't want his collegiate career to end. The same could be said for LeDay, who couldn't hide his emotions on the bench after fouling out with 26 seconds remaining.
They weren't just happy to be a part of Tech's first tournament trip in a decade. They wanted more.
But unfortunately, in the words of someone much smarter than me, all good things must come to an end. And late on Thursday night, the two players who brought back Hokie basketball experienced their final moments in maroon and orange.
Wisconsin's Bronson Koenig paced the Badgers with 28 points, including 8 of 17 from three, as the Big Ten runner-up consistently lead. The human water buffalo Nigel Hayes dominated the low block with 16 points and 10 rebounds, and kept Tech at an arm's length for the entire 40 minutes.
That's not to say Buzz's bunch had a particularly great outing. LeDay finished with 23, but was the only Hokie to really shine. The sharpshooting Ty Outlaw threw in 16, but had problems with Hayes down low. Allen turned his ankle early and wasn't his explosive self. And the trio of Justin Robinson, Justin Bibbs, and Ahmed Hill showed flashes in moments, but could never find their game.
Much like the matchup at Louisville earlier in the year, Tech stuck around for the entirety of the second half but could never pull themselves over the top.
The Hokies cut the deficit to one on five different occasions in the second half. But each time the Badgers would respond. And down the stretch, the undersized lineup Tech's utilized all season caught up to them. They gave up offensive rebounds on four straight opposing possessions, and watched the Wisconsin lead grow from one to six in a matter of moments.
By the time the final horn sounded, the margin had swelled to 10, making a close contest look borderline one-sided.
But enough about the game. Tech lost, and it sucks. But regardless of what Buzz or anyone else in the program may say, this was a big day for Hokie athletics.
Three years ago, I was the passenger in a car driving to Richmond. I was scrolling through Twitter, trying to stay abreast of the March Madness action I was missing while on the road. And there, in the middle of my feed, came reports that still surprise me to this day.
Marquette's Buzz Williams was leaving Milwaukee to become the new head coach at Virginia Tech.
It took me a long time to believe it. Why would such a well known figure agree to come to such a dumpster fire? But then there he was, shooting the shit with Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley on the CBS studio show, rocking a VT pin, and a Hokie colored tied.
It was real, and change would follow.
Virginia Tech just played in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 10 years. This has been the goal of Buzzketball since its inception. To win, be competitive in an impossible conference, and to go dancing. Each of those boxes have been checked.
Buzz deserves a lot of the credit. He's a great coach who assembled an awesome staff, and was able to turn over a depleted roster in no time at all.
But we know how important Williams is to the program. And, should he stick around, we'll all sing his praises for the squad in Blacksburg next year.
Instead, let's talk about the two dudes who made this happen.
I was working for ESPN Blacksburg when the LeDay transfer news came through. At the time we only knew what we could see on paper, and it wasn't great. An undersized power forward who couldn't find minutes or production at South Florida? Let's just say our expectations weren't high (I believe the phrase "he's like J.T. Thompson, but not good" was used.)
Allen transferred from Maryland under a different kind of scrutiny. What did he, a ball dominant gunner from two underachieving Terrapin teams, have to give?
And those questions and concerns stood for an entire year, as they sat out. They had front row seats to watch terrible basketball played in front of a few thousand people.
They were there to witness losses to Appalachian State and Radford in Cassell Coliseum. They sat and suffered through two separate seven-game losing streaks. Things weren't great in year one, and they took in every minute of it.
But the team's growth relied on the way LeDay and Allen performed. Due to guys transferring out, the pair was suddenly the veteran voice for a young group who needed it. And if they didn't get better, the rest wouldn't either.
It's no secret why the Hokies are in the position they are today. LeDay took every bit of his talent, put it in a four ounce tube, and squeezed the hell out of it until there was nothing left to give. The "6'7"" (cough, 6'5", cough), post player did all he could every night. (And he went out with a bang, averaging 25 and 9.5 over the last four games of his career.)
And Allen took the biggest step forward of anyone between 2015-16 and 2016-17. His turnovers went down, his efficiency went up, and his effectiveness on the offensive end skyrocketed. His 53% shooting from the floor and 44% from behind the arc is an incredible improvement from the year prior (39% and 28% respectively).
LeDay and Allen have been the bell cows for the last two seasons. And though I'm sure they're both disappointed with how their senior years ended, simply being on that tournament stage is a testament to the two of them.