Auburn handles the bitter end like a true champion
Samir Doughty, the glue guy on an Auburn team whose bond was essential to its unprecedented journey, committed the Final Four foul that will live in infamy. Eyes still red, he met the press at his locker and refused to blame the officials.
"They're going to do their job the best that they can," he said. "The referees don't try to tell me how to put the ball in the hoop. I'm not going to tell them how to make the right or wrong call."
The morning after, it was easy to see he comes by his poise honestly. Witness the gracious reaction of his mother Michelle on Twitter.
Bryce Brown, the senior leader, coming off the floor for the last time in an Auburn uniform after having his heart ripped from his chest, offered an honest, caught-on-tape comment that was, in the heat of the moment, incredibly innocuous.
"NCAA needs to get some new refs."
Soon after, too soon to be so mature and composed, he apologized for spilling what amounted to a teardrop of completely understandable frustration.
"I regret that," he said. "I just didn't agree with that one ref on that one call. The game was called pretty fair the whole game so I regret saying that. I apologize for that."
Bruce Pearl, the head coach who poured his blood, sweat and tears into this special team, had every reason to question the way the greatest ride of his career had just ended. Instead he gave as much glory to God in defeat as he had in victory.
Midweek, riding high on the way to Minneapolis, Pearl responded to a congratulatory text with this private message: "It's amazing what God can do if you trust Him. Blessed beyond what we deserve. We will give God the glory. Auburn is going to the Final Four. Can you believe it?"
After the game, after a crushing ending that moved everyone with a pulse, Pearl sat at a press conference with the world watching. Asked what he told his players in the crestfallen locker room, he said this:
"I asked them, would we have trusted God any more in victory than we would trust Him in defeat, in the sense that He carried us all the way here all season long and put so much blessing upon us. And so this is what the plan was, and let's handle the defeat with dignity and with class."
The word "class" gets tossed around far too lightly to describe the character of players and coaches who entertain us by playing games. In this case, the Auburn players and coaches taught the world an honors class in how to handle defeat.
There were so many highlights during this historic 30-victory season: that 12-game win streak through March, an SEC Tournament title, the first Final Four in state history and a 14-0 rally in the final five minutes against Virginia that put a spot in the national championship game in their grasp. These Tigers made so many memories for so many people, but the most impressive thing about the most inspiring basketball season the state of Alabama has ever witnessed was how they handled the bitter end.