The pieces were in place, they thought, to have a special season.
But after the Winthrop men's basketball team closed with a discouraging 75-55 semifinal loss to VMI on Thursday night, the Eagles are now staring into an offseason that's uncertain at every level.
A 13-20 record wasn't supposed to happen with four seniors. The sad postscript, however, was that those seniors underperformed at all the wrong times.
Little could anyone have imagined leading scorer Andre Jones' shot leaving him late in the season.
Little could anyone have imagined point guard Reggie Middleton finishing without a single assist in the final game.
Little could anyone have imagined senior post players Matt Morgan and George Valentine playing an entire tournament game without making a field goal, combining for one point on a Valentine free throw.
While the first inclination is to mourn the loss of a class of players that won a conference title as sophomores, the reality is those players were the ones who failed to deliver at the end of their senior campaigns.
That's why this offseason will be a fascinating one for the Eagles.
The first order of business will be deciding on head coach Randy Peele.
To this point, Winthrop hasn't commented on repeated questions about his future.
Peele has one year left on his contract at $165,000, and the simple finances (considering they're still paying off former baseball coach Joe Hudak) might buy him an extra year.
But even if they don't fire him, it's practically unthinkable they'd give him an extension. Leaving him to twist with no job security past next year makes recruiting more difficult than it already was.
The Eagles have signed two incoming players and have a commitment from a third, but Peele leaving could turn that class back into the streets. Point guard Jerran Foster would have likely signed during the early period except for an NCAA clearinghouse hang-up, while wing scorers Christian Farmer and Jackson Trapp have already submitted their letters of intent.
That leaves one spot open, and the current Winthrop staff has been recruiting post players to fill the enormous void they have inside.
While the consensus is that Foster, Farmer and Trapp could make an immediate impact, the fact is they'll be looking for points from anyone who steps up.
Their leading returning scorer is small forward Joab Jerome, who averaged 4.6 per game. But with Andre Smith and Derrick Henry expected to push for more time, and shooter Gideon Gamble back (3.8 per game), there is at least some potential to have a perimeter game.
Henry scored 17 at Georgia, proving he can score. But there were legitimate concerns about his on-court maturity, as his 1-to-12, assist-to-turnover ratio attests.
Smith showed flashes of being able to run the point, and can shoot from long range. But he also looked like a young player, which is why the less-athletic but more trustworthy Reggie King was playing in the tournament.
Inside, however, they have even fewer known commodities.
Freshmen James Bourne and Larry Brown had moments when they looked like perfectly capable defensive players in the Big South.
Problem is, they combined to score 131 points all season, as neither has anything resembling Morgan's shooting touch.
Little-used reserve Shola Diop will have to play a role, unless they find a junior college post player who can play immediately, since there's no time to develop anyone.
Of course, before any talk of the next recruit, Winthrop officials are going to have to decide who's recruiting him.
So until that decision comes, all anyone can do is wait, and wonder how it got to this point to begin with.