His team's feel-good season had just ended, but when Carmel Catholic basketball coach Tim Bowen reflected, he couldn't help but feel fabulous for senior starting guard Greg Edkins.
The Corsairs will miss Edkins.
After missing out on his junior season to take some time off from the game, Edkins wasn't going to miss out on what turned out to be one of the best seasons in more than two decades for Carmel. The Cinderellas of this years's state tournament in Lake County, the sixth-seeded Corsairs played top-seeded North Chicago tough for four quarters before losing 63-46 in the Class 3A Antioch sectional final Friday night.
"I never would have (imagined) anything near this," said Edkins, who played varsity ball as a sophomore. "It was an awesome season. I couldn't have asked for a better group of guys to come back and share a senior season with."
Having Edkins back this season was awesome for his coach.
"I'm glad he came back," Bowen said with a wide smile. "I gave him a big hug."
Carmel (15-14) earned a lot of hugs after finishing the season with a rare winning record for the program and putting itself in position to capture its first sectional championship since 1986. The Corsairs ousted third-seeded Ridgewood and No. 2 Lakes along the way before falling to North Chicago (28-3), which will play Chicago Orr at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Hoffman Estates supersectional.
Senior forward Cullen Barr led Carmel with a game-high 18 points and 9 rebounds.
"Awesome effort," Bowen said of his Corsairs, who headed into February with an 8-12 record and three-game losing streak, before winning seven of their next eight. "That's been the focus all year long. They've just been giving superb effort. That's why we're here."
Things looked good early for Carmel, which led 10-2 after Nickai Poyser drained a long 3-pointer with 4:15 left in the opening quarter. When center Jack George (8 points, 6 rebounds) scored the first two buckets of the second quarter, the underdogs led 15-8.
"We got off to an awesome start," Edkins said. "Maybe that adrenaline was almost too much."
When Carmel cooled off, North Chicago got hot. Jayquan McCloud drained a 3 and followed with a steal and layup, and the Warhawks were on the comeback path.
"We weren't playing smart the first quarter," said McCloud, who scored a team-high 17 points and added 5 steals. "We had to slow it down a little bit and make smart decisions in transition."
A burst of January chilled Carmel on a March Madness night.
In a one-minute, 43-second span in the second quarter, North Chicago guard Emmanuel January came off the bench to score 8 points, changing the score from 15-15 to 23-17 in favor of the favorites.
"We always start off slow," January said. "That's our downfall every game. As the sixth man, I plan on bringing as much energy and enthusiasm as I can. I try to get the crowd involved. When the crowd's on our side, that makes it even better."
January, who finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds, revved up North Chicago's fans with a series of flashy drives to the hoop, displaying several Harlem Globetrotters-esque crossover dribbles.
"My brother and I, all we really did growing up was dribble in the back yard," said January, whose brother Steven played for Georgia Tech. "That's like a habit. I just love dribbling the ball."
A 3-pointer by Arnold Shead capped a 19-4 run and had North Chicago up 29-19, before Barr beat the halftime buzzer with a running layup.
North Chicago extended is lead to 44-27 after three and still led by 16 points with a little more than three minutes left. But freshman Chris Duff scored 4 of his 8 points to help Carmel pull within 53-45 with 1:50 left after a free throw by Billy Kirby.
"I think that just shows what this team was all about all year," Edkins said. "We might not have the most talent on the floor, but the fight these guys (teammates) have ... I'd take these guys any day."
Carmel's comeback was over after its last flurry, however, as North Chicago finished the game with a 10-1 run. JaVairius Amos-Mays added 14 points for the winners.
"I think the (final) score is really deceiving," Bowen said. "We cut it to 8, and then we just couldn't get some shots to fall."