For the Nevada Wolf Pack men's basketball team, an absence of five years certainly made the heart grow fonder, and made the tears a lot more fun to shed on Thursday as a 65-61 victory over New Mexico State clinched the Pack's first outright regular season WAC title since 2007.
The Pack's victory lifted their record to 24-5 overall, 12-1 in the WAC. Second-place New Mexico State dropped to 22-9, 9-4.
With the victory, Nevada secured the No. 1 seed in next week's WAC Tournament in Las Vegas - the next step in securing the program's first visit to the NCAA Tournament in five years.
Afterward, with some of the Pack players' eyes wetting with emotion, the team enjoyed one of the spoils of championships in college basketball - they ascended ladders and, with silver athletic training scissors in their hands, cut down the nets on the rims at joyous Lawlor Events Center.
"It's indescribable," senior forward Dario Hunt told the Reno Gazette-Journal following the game. Hunt, who finished with 10 points, made a key defensive stop with less than two seconds remaining to secure the victory for the Pack. "It's something I've been looking at pictures of since my freshman year of teams previous doing that. I've always wanted to do that. To finally get that chance is pretty amazing."
For third-year Coach David Carter, the victory was as much as about the Pack's steel will as anything else. For most of the season, the Pack has always seemed to find ways to prevail down the stretch in tight, one- or two-possession games.
"It's not easy being a champion," Carter told the RGJ, speaking about the Pack's rebound from a 13-19 season in 2011. "It's a long road and there's a lot of adversity. We've faced adversity, and the kids have done well with that. They've kept their heads up and didn't get their heads down.
"After last season, they could have easily given up on us. But they didn't. They kept fighting, and I'm proud of them."