When Winthrop beat Notre Dame 74-64 in the first round of the NCAA tournament in March, it was the culmination of a year's worth of pain, work and sweat.
The previous March, Tennessee's Chris Lofton hit a desperation shot from the deep corner to beat the Eagles 63-61 in the first round of the NCAAs. That shot, that single moment of anguish, became the focal point for the 2006-07 season.
"Unfinished business" became the words to remember for Gregg Marshall and his team. They would use that to dominate the Big South Conference and become the first team to go unbeaten in the regular season (14-0) and sweep three games in the league tournament.
In beating Notre Dame, they accomplished what no Big South team had. They'd won an NCAA tournament game.
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In the aftermath, Marshall was asked to put the win in perspective.
"It's huge," he said, "huge for me personally. Huge for the players. Huge for our team, our program. It's huge for our league."
The "huge for me personally" line was prophetic, because the win opened the door that Marshall had been trying to get through for years. It got him another job at Wichita State and a $1-million-a-year payoff.
But it was more, too.
"It's been nine years," Marshall said, "nine years of pouring your heart and soul into something and being close ... knowing that everything we have done in the past 12 months, from the time that shot went in against Tennessee last year, we've been dedicated to this moment.
"And that's a lot to invest in something."
It's hard for the casual fan to understand the enormous pressure Winthrop was under last season. Anything short of a return trip to the NCAAs would have been considered a failure. Any misstep in the Big South, a league that gets one spot in the NCAAs, would have been disaster. The Eagles wore a bull's-eye as big as the Winthrop Coliseum at every stop and somehow they took every team's best shot and kept winning.
But to the players and coaches, anything less than at least one win in the NCAA tournament would have meant business would have been unfinished again.
It's hard to imagine a team playing under more pressure -- the kind other teams apply, the kind brought on by expectations and the kind the players and coaches imposed on themselves.
"It's a great day to be an Eagle," Marshall said just minutes after his team had danced off the Spokane Arena court.
"It's been a long time coming."
That win, a win a year in the making, became The Herald's top story for 2007, a year that produced stories that touched every possible emotion.
The rest of 2007's top 10:
2. THE SPLIT: The decision by the South Carolina High School League to put Rock Hill and South Pointe high schools in a region that doesn't include Northwestern didn't make sense at the time, and still doesn't.
But beginning next fall, Rock Hill and South Pointe will be grouped with schools in the Columbia region, while Northwestern stays with Clover, York, Fort Mill, Nation Ford and other schools that make more competitive and geographic sense.
The decision by SCHSL executive director Jerome Singleton to make the move for the 2008-09 and 2010-11 seasons makes no sense competitively, geographically or monetarily. More importantly, it makes no sense when the welfare of students is taken into consideration.
While coaches and athletics directors didn't like the idea, the folks who might have had a chance to change it -- administrators in Rock Hill School District Three -- didn't challenge it hard enough.
3. THE SMILE: After a season of unprecedented success and surprises, nothing rocked Winthrop basketball like the death of De'Andre Adams after he was injured in a single car crash in May near his home in Austell, Ga.
For days, the Winthrop community hung on every report coming from the hospital in Atlanta where the (maybe) 5-foot-9 Adams battled for his life the same way he battled bigger opponents.
On May 16, Adams lost the one battle he couldn't win.
Adams, who would have been a junior this season, had a big smile and a bigger heart, and his impact on the program is still being felt. The Eagles miss him on the floor and they miss him in their hearts. He could spark a rally on the court and a party off it. He was the ultimate teammate.
Adams' spirit lives on from his retired No. 24, to the picture of him leaping for joy at the end of the Notre Dame game that adorns the Winthrop Coliseum concourse, to the fully endowed scholarship that will bear his name.
As Adams romps on heaven's court or maybe on heaven's dance floor, got to bet the little man is smiling.
4. THE EXIT AND ENTRANCE: This time, there was no turning back for Marshall.
After Winthrop beat Notre Dame and narrowly lost to Oregon in the NCAA tournament, his name came up at New Mexico, South Florida, Texas A&M and Arkansas. He interviewed at South Florida and could have had that job. He interviewed at Arkansas and came up second to John Pelphrey.
When Mark Turgeon left Wichita State for Texas A&M (where Marshall probably would have been next in line for an interview), Wichita State turned to Marshall and lured him with a $1-million-a-year package, superb facilities and a fanatic fan base.
A year after taking, then rejecting, an offer at College of Charleston, the coach who built Winthrop into a nationally known mid-major program in nine seasons was gone.
Within three hours after Marshall was announced as the Shockers' new coach, Randy Peele, who had been Marshall's right-hand man for four seasons, was hired at Winthrop. It was a quick move that made sense.
Marshall had the job and financial security he'd been seeking, and Peele, who had been the coach at UNC Greensboro in the mid-'90s, had received what he wanted, too -- a second shot at being a head coach.
Both were moves that made sense.
5. THE RETURN: For the past couple of years, high school football fans had been wondering if Jimmy "Moose" Wallace would ever come back to coach and if he did, would it be at Northwestern, where he turned the Trojans into a Palmetto State power.
He came back to Northwestern and it was like he never missed a beat. Using an explosive passing game and defense, the Trojans won the region with a 6-0 record, finished 12-2 and came within a game of playing for a state title.
In high school, coaching makes a difference, and Wallace's return to the sidelines is proof.
6. THE WAIT'S OVER: In football-happy South Carolina, it's hard to fathom a high school team going more than 60 years without a trip to a state title game, but that was the story for Clover's Blue Eagles when this season began.
Clover last played for a state title in 1945, losing to Beaufort.
In the regular season, coach Jet Turner's team finished a game back of Northwestern in the Region 3-AAAA race, but made the Division II playoffs.
The Blue Eagles made history, beating Beaufort 23-14 in the final. Their 13 wins set a school record, and their season-long run made Friday nights in the city with love in the middle fun.
The 60-year wait was worth it.
7. THE TITLE: The Rock Hill area has long been known for its high school football, but the region can throw out its chest when it comes to hoops, too.
Fort Mill's boys won the Class AAAA state title in March, beating Summerville 53-41. The title followed Rock Hill's win in 2006.
Coach Bailey Jackson's Yellow Jackets finished 25-4, four years after the program won just two games in Jackson's first season.
It was the best of all ways to end the careers of seniors Paress Barker, Jon Kawakami, Will Johnson and Fernando Soto.
8. THE RISE AND FALL: In mid-October, South Carolina's football team was 6-1, ranked No. 6 in the nation and Gamecock fans were believing "next year" had arrived.
But coach Steve Spurrier's team lost its last five games, finished 6-6 and failed to get a bowl bid. Needing one win to assure a third straight postseason game, the Gamecocks lost at home to Clemson 23-21.
In Spurrier's third season, this was supposed to be the year the Gamecocks made a move up the SEC standings, but with injuries on defense and inconsistent play at quarterback taking their toll, little changed.
USC fans have seen the bottom drop out of a season before, but probably not like this one.
9. THE WISH: Anthony DiGiorgio, president of Winthrop, had taken the question periodically.
Will Winthrop ever have a football team?
He decided to provide some idea of what it would take. He had a task force, led by director of athletics Tom Hickman, put together a feasibility study.
In September, the findings were made public. It would take an initial investment of $18 million and a yearly cost of about $2.4 million. It would also have to be started within the framework of the university, meaning it would require top-notch facilities and coaches while not detracting from the overall mission of the university.
DiGiorgio said the university would be willing to consider football, if someone in the private sector were willing to provide the bulk of the startup cost.
As we move into 2008, no one has stepped up.
But it was a smart move on DiGiorgio's part to get the particulars in the open.
Football at Winthrop is just on the wish list for some, but at least everyone knows what it will take to make the wish come true.
10. THE USUAL: It was business as usual for Clemson football, with another decent record and another second-tier bowl game.
Coach Tommy Bowden's team finished 9-3 and got a bid to the Chick-fil-A Bowl, a season many football teams and their fans would love to have.
Once again, it wasn't the championship season Tiger fans or Bowden wanted, although it was closer than ever. All Clemson had to do to reach the ACC title game and perhaps a bigger, more prestigious bowl was beat Boston College at home in late November. But the Tigers lost 20-17.
That sparked speculation about Bowden's future -- again -- and Bowden survived -- again.
Perhaps one of these years, the story will change.