If Sunday was indeed it for the Northwest Missouri State men this season, the lasting images are of a team that battled like crazy and adamantly refused to give in no matter the circumstances.
Undermanned as could possibly be, the Bearcats got right to the very brink of finishing off an improbable six-day, four-win tournament title run only to be left heartbroken and despondent by the outcome.
In a championship game that was tense, hard-fought and emotionally exhausting, Northwest overcame an eight-point deficit late in the regulation and forced overtime on a Bryston Williams last-second layup.
In the final minute of a back-and-forth extra session, Northwest came up a play or two short of second-seeded Central Missouri and lost 79-76 at Municipal Auditorium.
Seeking to become the first fifth seed to win the tournament in its 33-year history, the Bearcats (21-10) had to settle for being a close second after Grant Cozad's half-court heave to tie it was deflected.
This was Central's sixth tournament title and third in the last eight years.
The Mules (22-7) have now beaten Northwest nine consecutive times and are guaranteed a berth in the Central Region Tournament.
"I thought we played our hearts out again," said Northwest Missouri State head coach Ben McCollum. "I thought we played a better game to be honest. We were just a couple missed layups, a couple missed free throws from winning the game. They got to the line 13 times in overtime. That's tough to overcome."
Already missing DeShaun Cooper, DeAngelo Hailey and Conner Crooker due to injuries, the Bearcats had to play the entire overtime period without junior center Dillon Starzl as well after he fouled out in the final seconds of regulation.
Up three at one point and down by three at another, Northwest regained a 75-73 lead on a pair of Cozad free throws with 1:08 left.
On the next possession, Central Missouri's Dominique Long got Tyler Funk into the air on a three-point attempt and drew a foul, sending him to the line for three free throws.
After missing one at the end of regulation that kept it a two-point game, Long knocked down all three on this trip to give Central a 76-75 lead with 54 seconds left.
"That was huge," said Central Missouri head coach Kim Anderson. "It was a heads-up play and certainly a smart basketball play to realize he had the opportunity to get fouled."
Northwest never got the lead back.
Its next offensive possession resulted in Cozad getting stripped on a play that McCollum argued vehemently was a foul. Had it been called, Cozad would've shot two free throws to give Northwest the lead.
Page 2 of 4 - Instead, the Bearcats were forced to foul Charles Hammork who made one of two to increase Central's lead to 77-75 with 25 seconds left.
Down two, Northwest ran the same play as the possession before against Central's zone, with Sullivan popping to the corner and Cozad trying to seal in the post. With Central a little late on the switch, Sullivan had a open look at a go-ahead corner three, but sailed it long.
Hammork, who was fouled after the rebound, again split at the line, making it 78-75 with 10 seconds to go.
On the floor the entire 45 minutes, Northwest's Matt Wallace temporarily restored his team's hopes by getting fouled on a three-pointer with four seconds left.
A shaky free throw shooter, Wallace made the first but missed the second, forcing an intentional miss on the third that he wanted to go right. Instead, the ball bounced off left into the hands of Central's Zach Bush.
With 3.1 seconds left, Bush made the second of two free throws to ensure Northwest could do no better than tie on its last possession.
The Bearcats tried a baseball pass to Cozad at the opposite foul line, but the ball got deflected. And all the Bearcats could get off was a half-court shot from Cozad that came up well short.
After the game, it was a scene of jubilation on Central's side of the floor, while the Bearcats were totally distraught, knowing this probably was the end.
"It hurts everybody," said Starzl, an all-tournament team selection. "We're like a family. It's just a heartbreaker. I'll remember this until we start playing next season."
The Bearcats lost despite shooting a higher percentage than Central Missouri from the field, the three-point line and the free throw line. They also out-rebounded the Mules 48-32 and scored above 70 points for the second straight game.
Nullifying those advantages were 20 turnovers to only nine for the Mules.
Central finished with a 25-9 edge in points off turnovers and 11-2 in fast break points.
"They denied a lot of stuff," said McCollum. "They were pretty handsy. A lot of them were just throw it to the other team stuff. Again, I thought we played a better game. I really did. I thought we played great. The ball didn't bounce our way, but the kids competed."
No one on either team played better than Williams.
Thrust into more prominent scoring role due to Hailey's injury, Williams responded with the best game of his Northwest career. He finished with a career-high 27 points, hitting all four of his three-point attempts and all seven free throw attempts.
Williams had 23 of his points after halftime, including the late basket that got Northwest into overtime.
Page 3 of 4 - "I know that my team and my coach have faith in me and confidence in me," said Williams who played 42 of the 45 minutes. "I had confidence in myself, so I was just going to take it to the hole and hopefully finish. I did end up finishing."
Also playing more minutes than he had in the tournament, Cozad stepped up with 14 points off the bench. Starzl scored a tournament-low 13 but was limited to 24 minutes by foul trouble. Sullivan hit four three's to finish with 12 points.
Junior forward Kyle Schlake added six points and Northwest finished with a 33-11 advantage in post production over Central's combo of Matt Webb and Alex Dean.
Central's leading scorer was point guard Widgett Washington with 20 points. Long finished with 16 and Hammork had 10.
Washington was named the tournament's most outstanding player and Hammork made the all-tournament team.
Central's 79 points were the second-most scored against Northwest all season.
"To be honest, I thought they kind of smacked us in the mouth early, but our guys recovered," said Anderson. "We were able to keep the game pretty even. We had chances to put it away at the end, but we didn't. I give my guys credit for hanging in there."
The punch in the mouth came in the form of a 7-0 run by Northwest to start the game.
Central eventually got going offensively, but the Bearcats made enough shots of their own to keep the lead until a three by Reggie Stallings and a layup by Lance Beckwith made it 21-19 with 7:37 left.
Both teams held leads over remaining portion of the half, but none by more than three.
A deep three by Long put Central up two, but a Wallace pick-and-roll assist to Cozad right before the buzzer made the halftime score 33-33.
Northwest shot 56 percent in the first half and continued to make almost every good look in the early part of the second. The Bearcats held three separate four-point leads, but couldn't get the stops necessary to extend any of them.
Northwest then missed a couple easy shots inside, and Central capitalized with back-to-back three-point plays from Long and Washington to lead 55-51.
The Bearcats got within two on a three by Williams, but after the first of three lengthy replay reviews, Central extended to a 65-57 lead with 3:48 left on an open three by Hammork from the right wing.
Trailing for the third straight game in the final four minutes, Northwest again came with up a series of stops it needed.
The Bearcats held Central to one point the rest of regulation and scored seven straight to pull within one with around two minutes left.
Page 4 of 4 - Northwest got the ball back down a point twice in the final minute, but Starzl missed his patented fade-away and committed an offensive foul on the next possession that was reviewed for a flagrant.
Webb hit one of two free throws to make it 66-64 with 16.1 seconds left. Afterwards, Williams raced to the other end and missed a driving layup attempt.
With a chance to ice the game, Long missed the front end of a one-and-one, allowing Williams a re-do. This time, he converted with 1.6 seconds left to tie it at 66 and ensure overtime.
That's where the Bearcats finally ran out of late-game magic.
The loss likely ends a season in which Northwest had to play short-handed from start to finish, yet won more than 20 games again and made it a round further in the conference tournament as a lower seed.
"As far as the mental toughness part of it, I've never been around a team as mentally tough as these guys," said McCollum. "We got special kids. There's no one in the country that can do what they did as far as coming back from all those different injuries."
Northwest learns of its NCAA Tournament fate tonight at 9:30 p.m. The Bearcats were not ranked in the top 10 of the region entering the MIAA Tournament and need to be in the top eight to qualify.