NEW YORK -- Kyle Smyth was as emotional as any player you'll see this month when their college career comes to a close. The Seton Hall fifth-year senior, who transferred last spring from Iona to be reunited with the coach who recruited him, let the water works run as he checked out of his final college game at the end of the Pirates' 75-63 loss to Syracuse at the Big East tournament Wednesday afternoon.
The hug with Pirates coach Kevin Willard was a really touching moment. Willard has spoken in the past on how he considers Smyth -- the first player Willard ever recruited when Willard was at Iona -- a son to him.
"It's like the end of a chapter in your life," a red-eyed Smyth said outside to Seton Hall locker room. "It's kind of hard to take. Not only that, but then, it's like, it's surreal. Those last 50 seconds or so when you're on the court. Then you see the sub come in. You're thanking everybody but you're running through five years of your career. It's rushing through your mind, and you don't even realize it, but it really hurts in the end."
Smyth said he never thought about how he'd feel when his final moment came.
He let plenty of tears out of his system on the bench. Then let a more out in the locker room. Then a few more during the post-game press conference. And on the walk back to the locker room again, he had to grab a white towel and smush it against his face a few more times as he took off his uniform.
Smyth was sad for his end but also talked about how happy he was for the guys he left behind at Iona. The Gaels won the MAAC tournament Monday night to earn their second straight NCAA tournament bid. Smyth contacted all the players he's still in touch with on that team, and reached out to the coaching staff to congratulate them as well.
"I'm very happy for them, definitely," Smyth said.
Willard couldn't match Smyth's emotions, but did say he's never felt as moved by a group as this one.
"No one's been in our locker room, been in our practices," he said. "These guys gave unbelievable effort and attitude. I usually don't get emotional at the end of the year, but this one hurts because it was such a frustrating year."
Willard said he felt bad for the players dealing with "a lot of negativity." Seton Hall had "five and a half" healthy guys for most of the year.
That was amplified by the unfortunate arrangement on Tuesday for Seton Hall. The team was a bit shafted by the Big East. Seton Hall played a 7 p.m. tip Tuesday night against South Florida Tuesday, then wasn't afforded a 24-hour turnaround period, despite the ability to adjust the seeding.
Not saying the Pirates would've beaten Syracuse with a full day's rest, but they were up early on the Orange, had it tied at the half, and then slumped late as Syracuse surged.
"If we didn't have to play a 2 p.m. (tip), we would've played a little bit better defensively," Willard said. "I don't know why you play a night game and then a day game. I thought we watched a little film last night, but we were spent. ... We could've used a couple extra hours of rest and preparation."
Players in the Pirates locker room didn't use that as an excuse, but did acknowledge the quick change did, in part, lead to their running out of gas against Cuse.
Now the offseason begins for the Pirates, who will be part of the restructured Big East. The league will be rebirthed with the Catholic 7 at its core and be filled out with a few other schools in the coming weeks.
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