One plane ride and a charter bus later, the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks were back in Nacogdoches.
With a heavy heart, Lumberjacks have no choice but to close the chapter on this year's season.
“I couldn't be prouder of our guys. It's an unbelievable team, it's a great group, and it was a magical ride,” said head coach Brad Underwood. “I'll take getting to that dance every year regardless of the outcome.”
Despite SFA's relentless fight, the team agrees Thursday night just wasn't their night.
“I was surprised we couldn't get the tempo to be a little faster,” said Underwood. ”Every shot, every opportunity we had was literally five-on-five and we've been a team that's excelled in transition. You got to give Utah credit, they had a lot to do with that.”
Offensively SFA couldn't get into a groove facing a national Top 10 defense, shooting 20% less than their average.
Player of the Year Thomas Walkup and senior leader Jacob Parker were understandably covered by Utah, leaving freshmen Ty Charles open and able to walk away as the second best individual performer of the game
“I was nervous at the beginning and coach was just telling me to take a deep breath, calm down, you're going to be alright,” said Charles. “He stayed in my ear the whole game and that was just keeping me calm and playing like Ty.”
“With 29 wins, you do that at the Division 1 level, that is a tremendous year. There's a great group of seniors that's walking out the door with 61 wins throughout the last two years, two NCAA Tournaments, two Southland Conference tournament championships, that's pretty special,” said Underwood.
One of those seniors walking out the door is Parker who without a doubt has been one of the fan favorites in recent years.
“The last two years have been the best years of my life. My whole time here at SFA of meeting everyone, getting involved in the community, and playing the game I love has been a real true blessing,” said Parker.
“Our players deserve this. Our players were very privileged in the season the way they did, with great crowds, sell outs, and then the welcome home is very special,” said Underwood.
“I'm proud of the Lumberjacks. They had a great season,” said Lumberjack fan Bryan Gates. “They've had two back-to-back great NCAA runs, and Coach Underwood has done a great job of starting a great tradition here that Lumberjacks across the nation can be proud of.”