Joni Taylor gave each of her seniors her moment to come off the court and receive an ovation at Stegeman Coliseum.
It wasn't the send-off the Lady Bulldogs were hoping for. A poor second quarter in which the No. 4 Bulldogs only scored one field goal from the floor allowed the No. 5 Duke Blue Devils to pull ahead and beat Georgia 66-40. Duke will face the Goliath Connecticut Huskies in the Sweet 16.
Taylor first took Mackenzie Engram off with about a minute left. Engram received hugs from her coaches and teammates. She then sat down at the end of the bench, and tears began to fall. Her career included All-SEC second team selections and 1,000 career points.
"I tried to keep it together because I didn't know if the camera was on me or not," she said. Her brother, New York Giants tight end Evan Engram, was nearby to support her. That's when she let it all out.
She couldn't help it again at the postgame press conference when asked about takeaways from the tournament.
"I'm not sad that we lost, I'm sad that I'll never get to play with [Haley Clark] again. I'm sad that this was my last time putting Georgia on my chest. Playing in the Steg, I'm so proud of what we've done and like Coach Joni said, this game doesn't define us. I'm not sad about the loss. I'm sad that when I walk out of the locker room, that's my last time."
Engram, like all of the Lady Bulldogs, struggled on the floor. The team's leading scorer this season had 5 points and went 0-for-3 on threes. The Bulldogs struggled with Duke's size and length. The Blue Devils defended well at the rim. Georgia went scoreless for the first eight minutes of the second quarter. They went into the quarter down 15-12. Once Que Morrison broke the drought, Duke was already up by 14. Georgia was too much in a hole and couldn't come back.
Hailey Clark got her own ovation a few seconds later after Engram.
"Coach Joni just looked at me and said 'I love you.' And I said 'I love you too' And we just kind of lived in the moment," Clark said of her farewell.
Clark has already graduated from Georgia. She is this year's SEC Co-Scholar Athlete of the Year.
The two starting seniors leave Georgia in good hands. The Lady Bulldogs are a young team with a strong recruiting class coming in next season. They were able to help Taylor, who is in her third year as head coach, earn her first tournament win with Georgia's victory over No. 13 Mercer in the First Round.
Now, the challenge for Taylor is continuing to make tournament runs.
Taylor said at one point she noticed all of her freshman out on the court. She couldn't help but think about what the team could be capable of next season.
"I think this year we snuck up on some people. Outside of our program, I don't think anyone thought we would win 26 games, been ranked, and hosted at home. We all thought that was possible. So now, teams know what we're capable of, and we have to work even harder to continue to get better. This is now the standard of our program."