Jerome Dyson spoke softly to a throng of reporters, offering one short answer after another. Stanley Robinson sat in the corner, staring blankly before being approached. Gavin Edwards, having joined Jim Calhoun and Kemba Walker at the postgame press conference, returned and took a seat, too.
The careers of those three seniors might not be over. UConn's season could be extended with an NIT berth. But regardless of what the immediate future holds, Tuesday's listless effort in a 73-51 loss to St. John's at Madison Square Garden ensured that their time at UConn will end in disappointment.
"I don't think there's any way we can explain it," Edwards said. "If we could have explained it, we would have fixed it. We wouldn't have had so many ups and downs this season."
This has been a most perplexing team, one that lacked the grit and improvement usually characteristic of Calhoun's teams. Unlike 2006-07, a team that finished 17-14 with all freshmen and sophomores, this team had experience, had talent. It had success, but failure always followed.
The Huskies (17-15) have lost four in a row and looked particularly poor doing so, seemingly regressing down the stretch. A year after playing lesser but significant roles on a team that reached the Final Four, Dyson, Edwards, Robinson and Walker could not keep UConn in the national picture this season.
"We were playing so well at one point," Edwards said. "If you had told me this is how the season would end, I probably would have been in disbelief. I guess that's basketball. That's why you play the games. You can't just go out there just thinking you're going to get a victory without playing the best you can."
While an NIT appearance wouldn't necessarily salvage anything, maybe it would at least be an opportunity for the players to get rid of the bitter taste they must have. Dyson, Edwards and Robinson were benched for the final 16:04 of UConn's regular season finale at South Florida. One could argue they should have been benched against St. John's — which was Calhoun's initial plan after the reserves played so well in Tampa.
In the past two games, Dyson twice scored four points and twice went 2-for-6 from the field. He had a career-high nine turnovers against St. John's. His play not only hampered UConn but probably affected his NBA draft potential. Always fighting a string of nagging injuries, Dyson, who had scored in double figures in each of UConn's first 30 games, said he wasn't any more banged up than usual.
Asked to explain Dyson's play, Calhoun said, "He hasn't played well. He's played very poorly. If I could explain it, I would try to do something about it. He's played very poorly."
Edwards had 11 points and six rebounds Tuesday after a seven-point, four-rebound game against South Florida. While his struggles weren't so magnified — he doesn't have any help down low — he had trouble against a physical St. John's front line.
Robinson's streak of scoring in double figures ended at 35 games when he had six points at USF. He had 10 points and eight rebounds against St. John's but played the way he often has — disappearing for long stretches.
"They shot the ball better," Robinson said. "They rebounded better. They set screens better. They did everything better than us. ... I'm not in shock. If you don't give it all you've got, you know you're going to end up losing. We should have come out harder than we did."
Rousing victories over Texas, Villanova and West Virginia now serve as a bitter reminder of what the Huskies were capable of. UConn won three in a row to improve to 17-11 and jump into NCAA Tournament conversation.
"How could you think that two weeks ago we were in the midst of beating Villanova at Villanova, coming back and beating Rutgers by 18, and then beating West Virginia, and then losing four straight?" Calhoun said. "As brilliant as we looked to win those three games in a row, we looked as bad losing those games."