LOUISVILLE, Ky. — It had hit Moses Johnson and Sydney Vanlandingham not long after they'd reached the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga locker room. Queen Alford was on the verge of tears as well.
Eventually, the mortality of Jasmine Joyner's college basketball career will strike her, too. But the immediate aftermath of Saturday's 82-62 loss to Louisville wasn't that time.
"It hadn't hit me yet," she said by the locker room. "Probably when I'm laying in the bed, with nothing to do, that's probably when I'll be like, 'Wow, I'm done playing at UTC.'"
The four-player senior class was on the court together at the end of the program's fifth consecutive first-round NCAA tournament loss. The Mocs had battled, fought and remained close until a back-breaking 20-6 Louisville run to start the fourth quarter. It was a bitter pill to swallow, considering the program had scheduled tough preconference games to have the Mocs ready for games like Saturday.
Although they played tough against the Cardinals, it wasn't enough to pull off the upset on Louisville's home court.
"It's very difficult because you're almost there, but you're never there, you know?" Alford said. "I mean, every time we go through this, it breaks my heart. But every time I try to take the positive out of it, try to take every positive thing that I can that can make me a better person and a better player.
"That's what you have to do when you have stuff like this, when stuff like this happens."
The four-player class was the first that coach Jim Foster had from beginning to end at UTC. Joyner and Johnson were four-year members, while Vanlandingham played three seasons and Alford played two after transferring from Jacksonville University. As a four-player unit, they won 45 games.
Joyner and Johnson were part of 103 UTC wins.
The four will be replaced by a five-player signing class — Baylor guard Mya Long, McMinn Central guard Jacobi Lynn, guard Brooke Burns, versatile forward Bria Dial and 6-foot-4 center Rochelle Lee — but the quartet's impact wasn't lost on Foster postgame.
He credited Alford for being unselfish late in the season, moving from a starting role to the bench, which paved the way for Aryanna Gilbert to move in with the starters and allowed Alford to become a more impactful player offensively. She scored 13 points in the final 10:03 of the Southern Conference championship game against Mercer, helping the Mocs rally from 10 heading into the final period, then followed that up with a pair of huge 3-pointers in the final minute of the first quarter of Saturday's game, which halted a 15-0 Louisville run.
"She could have been a pouter, but she was sort of an energy for us," Foster said. "Jaz had had to do yeoman's work for four years. We're not a big team, and she has to do a lot of extra things. Moses plays real hard and does some good things. Sydney had a job to do, and she did a very good job of doing it. When we needed her, she was there."
Joyner had a message for the returning players, remembering three years earlier when she was a freshman and the Mocs fell 59-53 to Syracuse in Lexington, Ky.
"It goes by so fast," she said. "I remember when Alex Black, Ash (Dewart) were here, and when we lost to Syracuse we said we were going to get better.
"I'll definitely miss it, but it was a good time playing here for sure."
Joyner finished as the school's all-time leader in blocked shots (436), third in rebounds (982) and 14th in scoring (1,330). Alford wound up with 1,369 college points: 724 at Jacksonville and 645 at UTC. Keiana Gilbert went over the 1,000-point mark with a putback for the Mocs' first points Saturday.
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @genehenleytfp.