There are losses that sting, losses that hurt and losses that race pass the course of normal human emotion and fall between disbelief and shock. The Virginia Tech men's basketball team's 70-72 loss against Syracuse on Tuesday fell in the last category.
After a nip and tuck first half battle, the Hokies came out of the gate swinging in the second. Down four, they started to bury three pointers like the line was moving closer to the basket with every shot. They eventually built a 13-point lead, and it looked as if this was going to be the new high-water mark of the Buzz Williams era.
Then everything went terribly wrong.
Down a baker's dozen with just five and a half minutes to go, the Orange switched into their rarely seen full-court press. To say that it worked would be the understatement of 2015.
Tech turned the ball over eight times in the final 5:35, doubling their amount of giveaways up to that point, and gifted the game away. It was a brutally heartbreaking display by a team that played some of its best basketball for the first 15 minutes of the period.
Justin Bibbs looked fully recovered from his concussion, playing 30 minutes and scoring a team high 19 points. Jalen Hudson submitted a serious man-ball performance, putting up 18 points and 7 rebounds, while showing why his coach says that he's the most talented player on the team. Shane Henry had an incredibly active 7 minutes (before fouling out) and the small-ball lineup with Malik Mueller worked wonders.
All of that, though, can't make us overlook what happened in the end.
I'm in a weird spot with this game. Obviously, the Hokies were outmanned again. They shouldn't have been in this game at all, yet the team competes and takes it to every opponent on the schedule. And really, when looking at the size and general talent deficits they face on a nightly basis, isn't that all we can ask for?
On the other side, I completely understand why Buzz Williams was so frustrated post-game.
"We lost," Williams said after the game. "We deserved to lose. It's the fourth one possession game in the last four games and that's the ninth game that was a one possession game and we are 2-7. I'm not going to back away. It's my fault. I have to figure out a way to put those guys in better positions. We're dead last."
This was one that his team should have had until they quite literally gave it away. Surely, it must have felt helpless. Sitting there, watching his team implode while also knowing that he couldn't really help them.
He's going to have some second thoughts about his coaching decisions (like not playing Christian Beyer a single minute, even after Henry and Satchel Pierce had fouled out), but that's normal for any good coach. At the end of the day he can't inbound the ball for his players, nor can he cut onto the floor to help with a double team.
This shouldn't have happened, his team shouldn't have lost and he's not really into the whole moral victory thing. He's going to be frustrated, and he should be. But this game, is also a great example as to why this team is going to get so much better.
I am excited for the future of Virginia Tech basketball because of games like these. Right now, not only is the cupboard bare, but Buzz has had to build a whole new cupboard. They're small, they're young and they're just not really in a position to succeed today.
But they've taken such a big step forward in year one, the next few seasons really could take this program to heights that it's never seen before. Do they need more ball handlers? Do they need more size? Yes, but both are on the way. This team is coming together right before our very eyes.
Record-wise, this year is going to be a dumpster fire. They're going to win just as many games as many of us predicted in the preseason, and they'll probably finish last in the ACC again.
As any fan of competition knows, it's never okay to be fine with losing. Being fine with losing games comes from general complacency, usually something that banishes a team to mediocrity forever (see Georgia Tech basketball). What's been going on over the past few weeks, though, isn't complacency. It's the exact opposite.
Hokie fans know how high the odds are stacked against their team. It's been the drum that's been banging ever since the season started. Yet, Tech fans go into each game thinking that they're team has a fighting chance, something that's entirely different from the past three years.
Watching this team is going to be like watching a child grow. Right now, they're an infant. They can't do a whole lot and have their greatest successes ahead of them. How much will they grow next year? Hell, how much will they grow next game?
We can't know, but that's why we watch.