Every loss in the NCAA tournament is emotional, whether it’s a top seed going down unexpectedly or a double-digit seed getting hammered according to script.
Few players, though, likely experienced the range of emotions Demetri McCamey did after ninth-seeded Illinois’ 73-59 loss to top-seeded Kansas in a third-round game Sunday in Tulsa, Okla.
When the Illini needed a big performance from their best player, McCamey wasn’t up to the task against a swarming Jayhawks defense intent on shutting him down.
Perhaps it was fitting that his often-rocky career would end with a dud — six points (2-for-9 shooting) and seven assists — two nights after a great performance against eighth-seeded UNLV.
‘‘It’s tough, especially losing a game knowing you didn’t make the shots you normally make or the plays you normally make,’’ McCamey said. ‘‘It’s just tough knowing that you have to go home now. And for the four seniors, it’s our last game in an Illini uniform.
‘‘But for the season, we had our ups and downs, and it taught me a lot. Kansas is a great team. We kept fighting, and that’s why I’m really proud of my teammates. Nobody gave up, and everybody fought to the end.’’
McCamey and fellow seniors Mike Davis, Mike Tisdale and Bill Cole were a much-maligned group during their four seasons in Champaign. Never was that truer than this season, when a promising 10-1 start was undercut by second-half struggles that resulted in a 20-14 finish.
Tisdale and Davis, though, said they have no regrets.
‘‘We played as hard as we could,’’ Tisdale said. ‘‘We may not have won, but I’m proud of us and our team, so that’s all I have to say.’’
‘‘We love the fans, whether they don’t like us or not,’’ Davis said. ‘‘We just love them, and we want to thank all the fans for being so supportive.’’
McCamey is done at Illinois, but he is hoping to continue his career in the NBA next season. His draft status is uncertain at this point, but he’ll have ample opportunity to prove his worth during predraft camps and workouts this spring.
McCamey certainly has the physical talent to make it as a point guard in the NBA — Kansas coach Bill Self compared him to former Illini star Deron Williams — but he must eliminate the mistakes that often got coach Bruce Weber on his back.
For Illinois, the page turns to next season. Weber has a highly rated recruiting class coming in — plus Bradley transfer Sam Maniscalco, who should provide stability at point guard — but some of the underclassmen (Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson and Jereme Richmond, in particular) must step up and become consistent performers for the team to be successful.
‘‘You have to realize how fast it goes and how hard it is and how hard you have to work,’’ Weber said. ‘‘If you want a special moment like this, you’ve got to be prepared and put in that effort beyond just practice, beyond just weights, beyond just conditioning in the summer. It’s got to be a special effort.
‘‘We’ve got to get some young guys to step up and give that and be that leader that pushes people.’’