Seven games ago, Pat Knight ripped his seniors.
After a bitter 71-59 loss to Vermont in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Dayton, Ohio, on Wednesday night, however, the first-year Lamar coach could barely contain his emotions of pride and gratitude toward the very same players.
"These guys did a heck of a job of leaving their legacy," Knight said, fighting back tears. "I don't know. If there are people that disagree about that, they're morons. These guys just made Lamar relevant again. And it gives us something to build on from here on out, and it puts pressure on the team next year to get something done."
After a 10-point loss to Stephen F. Austin on Feb. 22, Knight famously said his seniors were "stealing money being on scholarship." It didn't stop there. He also called it the worst group of seniors he'd ever been around and added that his players had problems "off the court, on the court, classroom, drugs."
The diatribe became a YouTube standard, with some calling it the best postgame meltdown ever by a college coach.
Yet the Cardinals (23-12) responded with six straight wins, including winning the Southland Conference Tournament. But a cold-shooting night couldn't get them out of an early hole against Vermont (24-11), which advances to meet top-seeded North Carolina in the next round.
"These guys did something this year a lot of college athletes don't ever get to experience," said Knight, in his first year with the Cardinals after being fired by Texas Tech. "They're down right now. Losing hurts. But what a ride. These guys were a blast to coach all year long. It was fun. I enjoyed it and I'm going to miss them. Boy, I'll be talking about them until the day I die."
Devon Lamb and Mike James each had 16 points and Anthony Miles 14 for the Cardinals, who were on the wrong side of a 13-0 run by Vermont in the first half that gave the Catamounts the lead to stay. Lamar fell behind by 16 early in the second half.
Four McGlynn led the Catamounts with 18 points.
"I can't wait until next year. But I'm going to miss these guys," Knight said before choking up. "It's been a special year. To go from getting fired a year ago and make the NCAA Tournament — and it's nothing I did. It's the six seniors."
NAIA men's tournament
Evangel (Mo.) 60, Lindsey Wilson 49: No. 8 seed Lindsey Wilson (21-10) was held to 37 percent shooting and lost in the first round of the NAIA Division I national tournament in Kansas City, Mo. The Blue Raiders, fifth in the nation in three-point percentage, were 5-for-20 (25 percent) beyond the arc.
Zack Kleine and Stephen Cotten each scored 15 points for Evangel (24-9), which will face No. 9 seed Rogers State (Okla.) in the round of 16.
Kalen Kimberland had 15 points for Lindsey Wilson.
Biola (Calif.) 69, Campbellsville 57: Campbellsville (21-12) shot 30 percent in the first half — 2-for-15 from three-point range — and never recovered in the first-round loss to No. 10 seed Biola (26-8).
Justin Ennis led Campbellsville with 25 points.
Biola, led by Andre Murilio's 16 points, will play Our Lady of the Lake (Texas) in the second round.
Women's NAIA tournament
Georgetown 70, Vanguard (Calif.) 68: Georgetown (22-9) rallied from a 10-point deficit to beat Vanguard (23-7) and reach the round of 16. Senior Mikkah Rogers hit a three for a three-point lead late in the game, and freshman Dev King added some clutch free throws.
The Tigers will play Avila (Mo.) on on Friday.
Jessica Waddle led Georgetown with 15 points, and Angie Lawrence came off the bench to score 13. Lizza Jonas had 11 rebounds.
Minnesota 70, La Salle 61: Rodney Williams tied his career high with 21 points, Austin Hollins had 16 and Minnesota (20-14) beat La Salle (21-13) in Philadelphia in the opening round of the NIT. The Golden Gophers will play Miami in the second round.
The Gophers closed with a 15-6 run to give Coach Tubby Smith his 100th win at the school. Only seven coaches in the program's history have won at least 100 games.
"I really didn't realize it," Smith said of the milestone. "You're so involved in the game."
Villanova: Junior guard Maalik Wayns will enter his name in the 2012 NBA Draft. Wayns has not hired an agent, keeping open the option of returning for his final season of eligibility. Wayns led the Wildcats in scoring at 17.6 points per game.
Centre women: Maggie Prewitt, a senior point guard who starred at Montgomery County, was named South Region Player of the Year by D3Hoops.com. Prewitt averaged 18.3 points and 6.4 assists and shot 40.4 percent from three-point range.
Central Michigan: Central Michigan fired Coach Ernie Zeigler with two years left on his contract. The buyout will cost the school $368,437. Zeigler was 75-111 over six seasons. His son Trey has averaged 16 points over two seasons. The 6-foot-5 guard has two years of eligibility.