LOUISVILLE -- In the locker room, behind closed doors, with only their basketball family gathered around, the six seniors on the Quincy University men's basketball team were given the chance to speak.
A common theme developed in what each one had to say.
No loss would ever break their bond.
It didn't matter if that connection was forged because of their passion for basketball, their love of bowling or the countless other ways they found to engage each other, It was rooted deep, and for many, it was deeper than any team they'd ever been on.
"It's the first year out of all five that I've been here that every single one us in the locker room said ‘I love you' to each and every one," senior forward Evan McGaughey said after the Hawks' season ended Sunday night with a 93-64 loss to top-seeded Bellarmine in the NCAA Division II Midwest Regional semifinals.
"You can just tell -- it's cliche and everyone says it this time of year when your season's ended -- we really, truly became a family this year. You could really tell in the locker room that everybody was taking it hard from the seniors to the redshirts. It wasn't easy for anybody."
There's no way to prep for it either.
Having played Belllarmine to a nip-and-tuck game in mid-January that the Knights won 103-96 in overtime, the Hawks had every reason to be confident going into Sunday night's matchup.
They won the Great Lakes Valley Conference West Division title, giving QU coach Marty Bell his first outright division title in 14 seasons. They beat Kentucky Wesleyan in the regional opener, ending the Panthers' 26-game winning streak. They had gone toe-to-toe with nationally ranked foes all season.
"If we play our game, we can play with anyone," QU senior point guard Herm Senor II said. "We've always believed that."
However, Bellarmine was better at playing its game Sunday night.
The Knights opened on a 15-2 run, closed the first half with a Rusty Troutman 3-point barrage and never lost their rhythm.
It was a humbling end to an historic season. The Hawks finished 25-7, tying the 1981-82 team for the second most victories in program history. The 14-4 GLVC mark was the program's best ever. Three players ended up as part of the 1,000-point club.
No single loss could spoil all the Hawks have done.
"The biggest thing for me was to not allow them to define their season or their success by tonight's game," QU coach Marty Bell said. "What they've accomplished is far greater than one game."
That's because the four- or five-year journey made this remarkable season possible.
"It's the journey of life and the life lessons you learn," Senor said.
And what they accomplished along the way will keep them linked forever.