LORETTO - The Northeast Conference men's basketball playoffs start tonight, but for the sixth time in the last eight years, St. Francis is not a part of the eight-team field.
Despite finding their stroke in February, the Red Flash still were three games out of the final postseason berth.
It was definitely not the result coach Rob Krimmel and company were expecting in their 5-24 season.
"It's not how we wanted things to happen. We certainly didn't plan it this way," Krimmel said. "The biggest disappointment is that was that we ended up out of the playoffs and not competing for a Northeast Conference championship."
St. Francis had its opportunities to get wins this year, especially in league games.
The Red Flash played in three overtime games this season - one of which was double-overtime - and lost each. In two other games, they lost by five or fewer points.
"There's a fine line between winning and losing at this level," Krimmel said. "Those are games that one or two possessions can certainly turn the tide of a season and can create some momentum."
That five-game swing would have been huge for St. Francis, but the Red Flash never had all of the pieces they needed - at any point of the season.
"The one thing that every college basketball coach faces is that you want to go through the year with as few interruptions as possible," Krimmel said. "We had a handful of those, and a lot of them were injuries. I think at the beginning of the year I said that if we could stay healthy, we'd have a chance to compete every night."
But St. Francis was never completely healthy.
Only two players - freshmen Ronnie Drinnon and Greg Brown - played in each of the Red Flash's 29 games.
Sophomore Earl Brown - who was named the NEC's Most Improved Player - missed a handful of games with a concussion. Redshirt junior Umar Shannon, who was battling different ailments all year, played in 23 games and managed an 11.2 scoring average.
"Umar, throughout the year, I don't know that he was ever 100 percent," Krimmel said of his leading scorer, who missed all of last season with a knee injury. "After the surgery, he favored his knee a little bit and it created some stress on his other knee. Towards the end of the year [he did not dress for the final four games], he was not at 100 percent. It was a little bit of his ankle, it was a little bit of his knee.
"He felt he was hurting the team by being out there in spots. He felt he wasn't performing at the level he needed to perform to help the team."
Probably the most significant loss, though, was Anthony Ervin.
The senior entered the season with 690 career points after coming off an impressive junior campaign where he scored 11.2 points per game.
But despite playing in all but five games, his time was limited early in the season because of a groin injury.
"We were hoping he was going to be one of our leaders," Krimmel said of Ervin, who was one of the team captains. "He was a kid that we were hoping to rely on early in the year, but he coming off of a pretty significant groin injury and never really got into his rhythm until the beginning of December and then went down to Lafayette and reaggrivated his groin.
"Unfortunately, he wasn't 100 percent healthy. It wouldn't have been fair to throw him out there because he wasn't ready. He wasn't ready to produce at that level."
Ervin finally saw significant minutes toward the end of January, started the last nine games - every game in February - and had two of his best performances in his last two home games as a member of the Red Flash. He finished the year averaging 4.5 points per game.
"Finally, he got himself in shape and was healthy," Krimmel said. "At the end of the season, everybody saw the old Anthony Ervin."
Coincidental or not, St. Francis was most successful in February - when Ervin was in the starting lineup.
The Red Flash were 4-5 during the last month of the season after going 0-11 in non-conference action, winning their first NEC game against Central Connecticut and then losing their next eight.
"I think as the season progressed, guys were getting better," Krimmel said. "I do wish the season was able to go on for a month, month-and-a-half. I think as a team, we were really starting to find our niche and what it meant to be successful every day in practice and every day on the court. Some guys individually got better. I think that showed late in the year in their performances."
Freshmen Stephon Mosley and Ben Millaud-Meunier were just a couple of examples of players who stepped up ang gained valuable experience.
Millaud-Meunier (9.3 ppg) was third on the team in scoring, and Mosley (8.3) was fourth.
Both were named to the all-conference rookie team.
"I think the big thing for our guys is that they got some experience," Krimmel said. "It's the first year this group has been together. It took some time for them to gel. Hopefully we can springboard that and carry that into the offseason and into next year.
"I'm anxious to get these guys back and in the gym and working on their game and working with them as people. We've got some guys that have gotten better. We have to add a few more pieces to the puzzle and get ready for next year."
But the Flash may lose an important piece to that puzzle.
It's unclear at this point if Shannon will return for his last year of eligibility. He will graduate in May with a degree in Business.
"He's got a lot on his plate right now," Krimmel said of Shannon. "We'll sit down and talk. He's welcome back. I'd love to have him for another year. But if he can put himself in a position to be successful and play somewhere professionally, I'm all for it. He's a great kid, and I'm going to do everything in my power to make him successful.
"Obviously, we hope he comes back, but that would be very selfish if we worried about that. He's got a bright future ahead of him."
Krimmel is eager to get back to work to prepare for next season - provided he gets to coach for a second year - but will have to wait until Monday since the university is currently on spring break instead of preparing for the postseason.
"We've got to start as soon as they get back first thing Monday morning and get after it," Krimmel said. "A lot of the experience, the success of having experience will be determined by how hard we work this offseason and get ready for 2013-14.
"Now each one of us - and when I say 'us,' I mean as a staff, too - we have to get better. It's not all on the players. We can do a better job. But now that we've got a year under our belts, we've got to go out and we've got to get better."