LEXINGTON, Ky. — Alex Oriakhi sat next to his locker, his eyes glazed, his head hung.
He stared out into the light of the cameras, reporters springing to the Missouri senior who had just returned from the postgame news conference.
The already congested locker room was even more crowded, dozens of reporters flooding in during the most sensitive of moments. The players sat silently in thought. The air around them smelled of the untouched pizza in the back of the room.
Most of the Tigers already had their Missouri sweatsuits on 15 minutes after the game. Those who did not want to speak hid their faces by staringat their phones, heads in their hoods, while the ones who had to, such as Laurence Bowers, solemnly obliged.
Oriakhi squinted from the light of the cameras. Though he was prepared to respond to the same questions he had already been asked, he was still fighting back tears.
Anyone who watched the game knew the answers. Missouri was outplayed, out-rebounded, outscored, out-everythinged. The No. 9-seeded Tigers lost 84-72 to No. 8-seeded Colorado State on Thursday, their season, and Oriakhi’s career, coming to an end in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s over,” he said, his eyes drifting toward the ground again. “It’s over for us, and it’s over for me.”
Earnest Ross sat four seats away, next to Phil Pressey who was swamped by photographers and reporters. Ross was coaxed into an interview where he spoke softly, his head no longer buried in his phone.
Missouri had its struggles on Thursday, and Colorado State did not. The Tigers shot 42.1 percent in the game, but the Rams shot an astounding 49 percent. The Tigers went to the free-throw line 19 times, but the Rams went 33. Colorado State out-rebounded Missouri 42-19, and shot 50 percent from behind the 3-point line.
“It hurts,” Ross said.
Missouri coach Frank Haith was right outside of the locker room fielding similar questions.
The team that he put together, a roster built from transfers, had come short of its ultimate goal.
He was quiet and composed, knowing how far this team had come.
The only player he had coached entering the season was Pressey, and the Tigers finished with a 23-11 record. They went a perfect 17-0 at home, beating Florida, VCU, Illinois, and Arkansas, and were even ranked as high as No. 7 in the nation.
“I’m really proud of this team,” Haith said.
Forty minutes after the loss, the players and coaches began to file out into the freezing air of Lexington. A black coach bus awaited their arrival, a 50-yard walk from the back doors of Rupp Arena.
Haith walked by himself, one of the first to leave, his suit jacket off. Ross was just minutes behind, flip-flops on, and so was Oriakhi, who limped the whole way. Pressey was next, his hands in his pockets, and then Bowers, his headphones on.
Their season was over.
In the coming months, Bowers and Oriakhi will enter the NBA Draft. Whether Pressey will return next year is still unknown.
They all disappeared behind the glass of the tinted windows. The bus, and the Tigers, drove off, quietly leaving the NCAA Tournament.
Supervising editor is Greg Bowers.