It was a devastating way to end a season that started with such promise.
After opening last season with a school record 12 consecutive wins, the Lycoming men's basketball program quickly fell back down, taking just seven of its last 14 games.
The freefall started once the Warriors began the conference-heavy portion of the schedule, leaving an even more bitter taste in their mouths.
Lycoming opens its 2012-13 schedule tonight with its 15th annual Tip-off Tournament at Lamade Gymnasium. The four-team tournament opens with Lycoming taking on Penn State-Wilks-Barre at 6 p.m. and Salisbury playing SUNY Old Westbury to follow.
"Once you get into the conference things get tougher, teams start to know you," sophomore guard Patrick Dougher said. "You really need to grind with those teams, because everyone wants to bang you up. You have to step up big."
After the blazing start, the Warriors failed to win more than two consecutive games the rest of the way. Conference play also gave the Warriors their only two-game losing streak of the season when they lost 59-57 in overtime at Messiah then 70-69 at home to Widener.
Although the early season wins helped put Lycoming into a position to challenge for a spot in the MAC Commonwealth Tournament, the ending left most players feeling like there should have been more.
The conference tournament offered some excitement, though. Mike Bradley led Lycoming with 31 points and 13 boards to help Lycoming squeeze out a 79-77 overtime win at Widener to advance to the MAC Conference Championship.
But Messiah defeated Lycoming in all three meetings last year, including the conference championship, 68-59.
"The league is the biggest part," junior Kevin Anthony said. "We had a good start out of conference, but once we got into the conference we kind of fell off a little bit. Once we get hit we have to get up and keep fighting."
"Last year's success was good, because we made it to the championship and that's every team's goal," senior captain Jerald Williams said. "What's motivating us is we want to win the championship this year. Now, we know we can get there and, even though we lost a big piece, we still feel like people can step up and we'll get there."
The big piece Williams is referring to is Mike Bradley, the team's leading scorer from last season.
"He was a power forward playing the center position and he was ideal for the style we play," said Lycoming coach Guy Rancourt. "We didn't feel like going outside of what we had was necessary. We're excited with what's returning in Michael Rudy and Justin Miller."
Since joining the Warriors from Danville, Rudy has shown consistent improvement. In his first game as a sophomore, Rudy helped Lycoming to a 97-63 win over Penn St.-Wilkes-Barre, leading the team with 14 points.
Bradley, though, was one of only three Warriors to score over 300 points with Anthony (353) and Anthony Martin (326) rounding the three top scorers out.
Martin, a transfer from Orange County Community College, will be expected to continue to help the offense this season. The 6-foot-3 senior led the team in scoring in five games last year.
Rancourt also brought in Chido Enweze from Paul VI Catholic in Virginia. The 6 foot 9, 290-pound center should give the Warriors plenty of size at the center position.
"I real happy with our guys so far," Rancourt said. "I wouldn't say it's motivation as much as maturity. They are handling practice and the process of getting better much better."
"We have a pretty big freshman class coming in," Anthony said. "That's really on the older guys to help lead and do a lot of what the coach says."
Of the returners, Anthony led the group in scoring, matching Bradley's 353 points on the season. Anthony also led the team with 39 blocks.
"It's a big motivation," Anthony said of the disappointing conclusion to the Warriors' season. "We had a good start, fell off a bit, then came back strong at the end. We felt like we should have been able to make the tournament. We just have to keep that under consideration and just remember it's about the end of the year."
As good as Anthony was leading the Warriors in the team's improbable win over Elizabethtown, Williams gets credit for the save. Williams, who Rancourt named a captain at the start of the season, stole a pass and converted two free throws in the final six seconds to lead Lycoming to the postseason-clinching win.
Williams was outstanding in his junior season, adding to his already record-breaking numbers. Williams finished the season with 227 assists to go with 181 points. He also posted 83 steals.
One of the most prolific point guards at the Division III level, Williams was second in the country with 8.7 assists a game and seventh in the country with 3.07 steals per game. Williams has managed to be in the top ten of steals per game average in the nation since joining the Warriors in 2009.
"He leads by example. He's always the first one in the gym," Dougher said of Williams. "He makes you want to be in the gym working. If you ask him anything he's there to help you. You can always ask him to go to the gym."
Lycoming's efforts last season earned it a No. 2 preseason ranking in the conference.
"Obviously with our number two ranking in the preseason polls, we want to actually win the MAC and go a step further and make the NCAA tournament," Dougher said. "Everyone looks like they have improved. Everyone's doing what they need to do to improve from last year."
Despite the conference's early confidence in the Warriors, Rancourt is reluctant to focus too much on last season, knowing it's only going to continue to get harder.
"Every year is more challenging. Every year the bull's eye gets bigger," Rancourt said. "We're preseason number two, which means there are just eight other teams gunning for us. Every year it gets tougher."