KATY, Texas — There can sometimes be a thin line between success and failure.
In sports, subjectivity can blur that line, occasionally making it difficult to determine how much of a success or a failure something was.
Before the start of college basketball season, I made a simple declaration: both the McNeese men's and women's basketball teams could deem their seasons successes if they earned a trip to the Southland Conference Tournament. They didn't have to even win a game, advance far, or win the whole thing. Just earn a trip to Katy, and the season is a thumbs up.
Reason being, both teams struggled so much in the 2018-19 season that the place they'd need in the standings would necessitate an improvement in record.
The Cowgirls, who were projected in the preseason conference poll to finish ninth in the 13-team league, did not earn a trip to the eight-team SLC Tournament, something we knew with about two weeks left in the season. So I will stay consistent and say their 2019-20 season was a disappointment.
But I really want to focus on the men's team. One game, and really, if I'm being honest, one moment, or one shot, changed the entire outlook on the Cowboys' season.
It was a success.
Regardless of Wednesday night's outcome, this season was a success for second-year head coach Heath Schroyer and his squad.
How was it a success? Let me count the ways.
McNeese's record improved six games from 9-22 in the 18-19 season to 15-16 this season. In conference play, the Cowboys improved their win total by four (from 5-13 in 18-19 to 10-10 in 19-20).
McNeese played two extra conference games so it had two extra chances to improve that record. But it was still an improvement nonetheless. Taking away the sub-Division I games, McNeese's record was 11-16, much better than the 6-21 record last season.
In the 2018-19 season, McNeese lost its home opener to Loyola-New Orleans, an NAIA team. That never came close to occurring this season as the Cowboys went 4-0 against their sub-Division I competition, with an average margin of victory of 42.7 points per game.
On the court, the biggest improvement was simply that the team was fun to watch. When you watch a team that was second in Division I men's basketball in 3-point field goal percentage (40.5 percent) in the regular season, you're bound to see some nights when they can't miss. It was exciting.
There were electric atmospheres. The home game against Nicholls State was about as good as it got because of the loud crowd and the clear tension between the teams. The home games against Stephen F. Austin and Lamar were also pretty good.
But the season was a success because A.J. Lawson had the ball stripped from him, got the ball back, had the wherewithal to find a semi-open Dru Kuxhausen, who got the shot off and made it while getting fouled. If that sequence doesn't happen in a game that was tied at 66, and Lamar goes on to win the game in regulation or overtime, this season would be looked at as a disappointment.
I'd stop short of calling it a failure, because that would be harsh. But disappointment, yes.
That being said, I have to acknowledge what almost caused this season to be a massive disappointment. After starting conference play 0-3 and then running off an impressive seven-game winning streak, the Cowboys sputtered their way to losing six in a row. Then, in the penultimate game of the regular season, McNeese went on the road to Nicholls and got hammered 80-56.
It didn't look good for the Cowboys going into last Saturday's game at Lamar. McNeese landed the first few blows of the game and led by as many as 18 points. Slowly, Lamar crept back into the game, getting close the entire second half before tying the score at 66 late.
Kuxhausen's shot secured the Cowboys' a spot in Katy and saved their season.
No matter what happened Wednesday night, McNeese should feel good about what it accomplished.
Could it have gone better? Sure. But improvements were made in a lot of areas compared to last season.
Schroyer has a reputation of improving programs wherever he goes, and he did just that with McNeese men's basketball this season. Kudos to him, the rest of the coaching staff, and the team for that.
David Berry covers McNeese State athletics. Email him at email@example.com