They quietly shuffled out of the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center, the stern realization of a season-ending loss etched on every face.
The G.W. Carver Wolverines, fresh off a 49-38 loss to Mountain Brook in Wednesday’s Class 6A semifinals, blankly stared ahead.
“Life still goes on,” forward Demetrius Houston said after taking his Carver jersey off for the last time.
“I have to prepare myself for college now. No days off. I have to get back in the gym.”
But will this Carver team, like so many before it, face an unfair legacy?
The Wolverines (24-5) made it to the state semifinals for a fifth straight year — and the quarterfinals for the 14th time in 19 seasons.
They’ve won just one state championship in that time.
“We judge our kids at Carver on winning a state title, and I want us to have our goals that high every year, but when kids work as hard as these kids have, it’s still a success,” coach James “J.J.” Jackson said.
“If you’re not here, you can’t win it and, year after year, we have an opportunity to win it.”
Carver can attribute Wednesday’s loss to an epic offensive drought.
No. 1 Mountain Brook, which plays Blount in Friday’s finals, held the Wolverines scoreless from the field for an 11-minute stretch of the second half.
“Mountain Brook has an excellent defense, a good defense,” Carver senior Harold Cardwell said. “At the same time, we could have done better. We should have done better.”
Cardwell scored on a putback with 3:25 left in the third quarter to give the Wolverines a 30-24 lead.
When Cardwell scored on a putback with 37.9 seconds left and added a free throw, it cut Mountain Brook’s lead to 45-36.
In between, the Spartans (33-3) held the Wolverines to three measly free throws, 14 missed shots and seven turnovers.
“We weren’t attacking the basket like I think we should,” senior forward Brandon Murphy said. “If we had attacked the basket, we would have maintained our lead. We needed to play smart and play solid defense.”
Carver was 9-of-15 from the field in the game’s first 11 minutes. The final 37: 6-of-26.
“I’ve been coming to this tournament since I was 5 years old,” Mountain Brook coach Bucky McMillan said. “It seems the teams that advance play good defense.
“When it comes down to it, our guys got stop after stop in the fourth quarter.”
Tawarren Grant, who banked in a 3-pointer at the end of the third quarter to put Mountain Brook ahead 34-31, and Alex Peters scored 11 points each. Patrick Keim added 10.
Houston finished with 16 points to lead Carver, which has nine seniors.
Still, the Wolverines will face the same expectations next year.
“Carver will be back,” Murphy said. “There’s no doubt in my mind. We’re going to have an excellent team next year with a lot of talent and height.”
Jackson, whose team has recorded 13 straight 20-win seasons, said he welcomes it.
“Winning state championships is what we strive for,” he said. “Some programs want to win area championships or regional championships. We want state championships.
“You’re heartbroken if you don’t get it, but it’s all a lot of fun anyway. This has been a whale of a ride.”