That feeling, Mathiang said, never goes away. And that, he added, is why seniors are overcome with emotion when their teams lose in March.
Mathiang's tone indicated he expected to experience that gut-punch and that pain at some point this month. He is a reasonable guy, a redshirt senior who has seen a lot in his five years at U of L. He just didn't expect to experience it so soon. Not this weekend. Not before Louisville had reached its goal, the Final Four in Phoenix.
But a Michigan team that has been blazing hot since early February stormed back from a nine-point deficit and stunned U of L 73-69 on Sunday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, abruptly ending what the Cards had hoped would be a long stay in the NCAA Tournament.
"I mean, there are no other words," Mathiang said. "You just know your college career is over. I always knew it was going to end someday. Obviously, I'm highly upset with how it ended and how we fell short, but at the same time, I've had a great time and a great career here."
That was the overarching sentiment in the entire Louisville locker room: The Cards felt like they had a great season, all things considered, though they were frustrated it ended the way it did.
They won 25 games, earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament and finished tied for second in the ACC. They navigated what was ultimately the second-toughest schedule in NCAA Division I basketball, one of the most difficult slates in Rick Pitino's time at U of L. And they did it with two sophomore stars who were reserves last season, plus a rotating frontcourt quartet and one true point guard on the roster.
If there were tears, they were out of sight from the reporters gathered in the locker room. But there was disappointment – deep disappointment. Louisville (25-9) lost the way it had so many other times this season, building a lead and then blowing it.
"I've never felt this hurt over a game before," sophomore guard Donovan Mitchell said. "It's hitting me, but it hasn't hit-hit. It's tough losing a game where you had all the keys to win and you just didn't lock in and focus."
On offense, the Cards stopped passing the ball into the post, where they dominated during the first half, and instead took 10 3-pointers and seven jump shots. They were 5 of 20 from 3-point range for the game and missed 11 layups and two dunks, including one when Anas Mahmoud was all alone under the basket and rimmed out his slam.
On defense, Louisville ran Michigan's sharpshooters off the 3-point line and forced the Wolverines' right-handed dribblers left. The Cards took away what the Wolverines do best and held them to 28 first-half points. But John Beilein's team adjusted in the second half, hammering the post when Louisville defenders switched off screens, leaving smaller perimeter players guarding Michigan's 6-foot-11 center Moe Wagner.
Wagner spearheaded Michigan's second-half surge, scoring 17 of his 26 points after the break. Michigan shot 16 of 26 from the field in the final 20 minutes, scoring 22 times in 33 possessions.
"It's just tough when you lose the same way in big games many times," said Mitchell, referencing a Nov. 25 loss to Baylor in which U of L led by 22 points and the ACC Tournament loss to Duke in which U of L led by 12. "We had the effort that was there. We just had to focus in when they focused in. ... We prepared for those crunch-time moments all the time in practice. Now that we've been through them on the biggest stage, it'll definitely be something we look back on and say, 'This is what we have to do.'"
U of L assistant Mike Balado, who accepted the Arkansas State head coaching job and will be introduced there on Monday, went around the locker room saying his goodbyes as the media members filtered out.
Managers, support staffers, coaches and teammates stopped by David Levitch's locker to give him a hug or a pat on the back. Same with fifth-year senior Tony Hicks. Quentin Snider stared straight ahead, as did Matz Stockman and several other players.
As disappointed as Mathiang was, he was the same energetic leader in Louisville's locker room he always has been. He just spoke in a hurried whisper. He spoke like someone who anticipated this day would come.
Just not this quickly.
"I have no regrets," Mathiang said.
|U of L’s Deng Adel (22) and Donovan Mitchell (45) embraced after their 73-69 loss to Michigan during the NCAA tournament at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Mar. 19, 2017 (Photo: Sam Upshaw Jr./C-J)|
Wagner's big game sends Michigan past Louisville in NCAAs
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Moe Wagner scored a career-high 26 points and spurred a furious second-half rally to send Michigan past second-seeded Louisville 73-69 on Sunday and into the Sweet 16.
The seventh-seeded Wolverines (26-11) have won seven straight - six since a frightening plane accident before the Big Ten Tournament. They also earned a ticket to the Midwest Regional in Kansas City, Missouri, their first since 2014.
Donovan Mitchell scored 19 points and Deng Adel had 16 points to lead Louisville (25-9), which had made the Sweet 16 in its last four NCAA Tournament appearances.
But Wagner bailed out the Wolverines from a poor game.
Trailing 45-36 with 16:09 to play, the German native scored on a layup to start a 17-6 run that gave Michigan its first lead since the opening minutes. And after Wagner's 3-pointer broke a 55-55 tie with 6:39 to go, the Wolverines led the rest of the way.
Afterward, the Michigan players celebrated by jumping around near midcourt, then walking by the pep band and pumping their fists toward fans as the school's fight song played.
Inside the locker room, coach John Beilein squirted his players with a water gun. It was only his second win in five games against Louisville coach Rick Pitino.
Early in the second half, it looked like there would be no celebration for the Big Ten tourney champs.
Louisville appeared to have Michigan on the ropes when it opened up a 9-point lead early in the second half. But Wagner was able to get to the basket, draw fouls, make free throws and even hit an occasional outside shot.
Louisville had no answer for him, and once Wagner got started the rest of the team joined in. D.J. Wilson had 17 points and Derrick Walton Jr. had 10 points and seven rebounds on a day he was just 3 of 13 from the field.
Michigan finished 6 of 17 on 3-pointers just two days after setting a school record for 3-pointers in NCAA tourney games.
Louisville: The Cardinals head home empty-handed after returning to the tournament. The Cardinals fell to 12-1 all-time as a No. 2 seed.
Michigan: The Wolverines' magical ride shows no sign of stopping. They've been winning games in different ways and now they head to Kansas City to see if they can keep building on the momentum.