PITTSBURGH - After his postgame news conference had ended Thursday night, Fran O'Hanlon slipped through a black curtain behind a dais and found himself face to face with two Villanova players - Darrun Hilliard and Daniel Ochefu - and Jay Wright. The three were sitting in a row, and one by one, O'Hanlon shook hands with each of them, finally giving Wright a firm grip and finishing with a nine-word admonishment.
"You guys," he said, "had better get to the Final Four."
The day before, O'Hanlon had joked that he would enjoy every minute of this experience - his coaching Lafayette to its first NCAA tournament in 15 years, his coaching against his alma mater - until Thursday's game began. His joke turned into a cruel reality, a 93-52 Villanova victory that showed just how great the gap was between this particular No. 1 seed and this particular No. 16 seed.
On offense and defense, O'Hanlon's players were where they were supposed to be when they were supposed to be there, and it didn't matter. The Wildcats could merely throw the ball in to Ochefu (14 points, nine rebounds, 5 for 5 from the field) or JayVaughn Pinkston in the post, or Hilliard could jump over them for an alley-oop reverse layup, or any of them could rip a rebound away and start a fastbreak, then rip away another and go back up hard and strong. Citius, Altius, Ochefortius.
And all O'Hanlon could do was wait for that merciful last horn to sound.
"It's excruciating," he said. "The [TV] timeouts are so long. You know there's only so much that you can do, and it feels like it's never going to end. If somebody said, 'You only have an hour to live,' well, let it be the last hour of that game, because you're thinking: 'Lord, take me now. This seems like an eternity.' . . .
"The funnest part is when that game ended. I can go back to being a Villanova fan."
Like the rest of the country, O'Hanlon had watched what had happened Thursday afternoon - two No. 14 seeds, Alabama Birmingham and Georgia State, and a No. 11 seed, UCLA, pulling off upsets - and he anticipated what awaited him and his team that night. Two Patriot League teams, Bucknell and Lehigh, had played Villanova well earlier this season, and O'Hanlon knew that Wright would use all that recent history as a reminder to his players not to take Lafayette lightly. They did not.
They scored nine of the game's first 11 points, led by 23 points at halftime, and never for a moment let up. They held Nick Lindner, the Leopards' sophomore point guard and the MVP of the Patriot League tournament, to three points and pushed him into six turnovers. They were as dominant as one would expect a top seed and a team with a 33-2 record to be, and though O'Hanlon was reluctant to compare teams from different eras of college basketball, he was willing to acknowledge just how good this Villanova team was relative to this era, and how much of its legacy was riding on a deep run in this tournament.
"Everybody always argues that if you don't go far enough, it's always going to be hanging over your head," he said. "As far as I see, they have all the pieces. They have an inside presence. They have a point guard. They have scoring. They have shooting. I don't know if there's been a better Villanova team in a regular season, you know? Unfortunately for what happens nowadays, it's going to be about how far they go."
They did nothing Thursday to suggest that they can't go all the way to Indianapolis, and the coach on the opposite sideline - 66 years old, the starting senior point guard for a 1969-70 Villanova team that came within one win of a Final Four appearance - spent most of the night sitting on a chair, the outcome out of his hands.
There was a timeout with 2 minutes, 12 seconds left in regulation, and the Lafayette players who had been on the floor jogged to the bench, and those who hadn't stood up in a half-circle, and O'Hanlon knelt down in front of them and talked in a soft voice about how to play out the final few possessions. His kids had won their league championship, too.
His kids deserved to finish their season on the best note possible against the best team they'd played this season, maybe the last few seasons. So Fran O'Hanlon made a point not to sit down for that final 2:12. He stood and coached until the end, until everything finally became a little fun again.