QUINCY -- Marty Bell stayed patient and confident.
He hoped everyone else would, too.
Three straight losing seasons and three consecutive losses to open the 2015-16 season had fans and critics questioning the direction the Quincy University men's basketball program was headed 13 seasons into Bell's tenure as head coach. He believed the program was headed back to the NCAA Division II Tournament with a team built for sustained success.
"It's something you just don't put one season into," he said. "A special season is always years in the making."
He was right. The historic season the Hawks enjoyed that recently ended in the second round of the NCAA Midwest Regional was the culmination of a five-year process.
It started by recruiting two local kids -- Evan McGaughey from Illini West and Dalton Hoover from Pittsfield -- who helped generate regional interest in the program, then finding the right complimentary pieces to put a championship puzzle together. By the time the 2016-17 season began, those pieces were in place and expectations were high.
The Hawks didn't disappoint.
They won 15 of their first 16 games to climb into the national poll for the first time since the 2009-10 season. They overcame a midseason three-game losing streak to play themselves right back into sole possession of the Great Lakes Valley Conference West Division lead, and they won the first outright division title since joining the GLVC by winning at Truman State in the regular-season finale.
An early exit from the GLVC Tournament didn't tarnish the Hawks' NCAA resume. They received a postseason bid for the first time in seven years.
"I've been working four whole years for this, and it's a dream come true," senior point guard Herm Senor II said.
The dream wasn't over.
The Hawks drew the fifth seed for the Midwest Regional -- the highest seed in five tournament appearances under Bell -- and pulled a first-round upset, ending Kentucky Wesleyan's 26-game winning streak with a 78-75 victory at Knights Hall in Louisville.
It was Quincy's 25th victory this season, matching the 1981-82 team for the second-most victories in program history.
A loss to Bellarmine on Sunday night meant the Hawks couldn't break that tie nor keep a magical season afloat. They finished with a 25-7 record and a tearful locker room moment in which their true heart and soul was revealed.
"This is the best year of basketball I've ever played and the best team I've ever been on," Senor said. "It ended way too soon in my point of view, and we ran into a tough team, but the locker room was tough. We're a family. Even our parents are a family. It's tough being able to see those people and not knowing when you're going to see them again.
"We talked about how it's not about wins and losses, but the journey in life itself."
Bell sat at the podium for the postgame press conference listening as Senor and McGaughey talked about the team, the players' love for each other and how this had truly become a family. It allowed him to smile after arguably one of the toughest season-ending losses of his career.
"They listen well," Bell said.
Bell had preached it was a journey and those willing to invest in it would be rewarded. He proved prophetic.
Six seniors stayed committed to the program through the ups and downs. They were patient and confident in the process and the plan.
It's why they became the best QU team of the Division II era.
BY THE NUMBERS
Here's a closer look at the Quincy University men's basketball team's season:
1 -- Great Lakes Valley Conference West Division title, the first outright division title since the league split into divisions for the 2005-06 season
5 -- Games the Hawks won by three points or less
14 -- GLVC victories, the most by any QU team since joining the league in 1995-96.
14 -- Longest winning streak of the season and third longest in school history
25 -- Victories, matching the 1981-82 team for the second-most in school history
51.3 -- Field-goal percentage the Hawks shot, which ranked fifth nationally
204 -- Assists by senior point guard Herm Senor II, who finished with 484 career assists.
632 -- Points scored by senior forward Joe Tagarelli to set the single-season scoring record.
1,574 -- Career points scored by senior forward Evan McGaughey, fourth in school history