QUINCY -- A nine-hour bus ride along dark highways through Michigan and Illinois gave the Quincy University men's basketball players plenty of time to size up their season-opening effort.
It had the Hawks as encouraged as it did exasperated.
Yet, they know the more aggravated and less complacent they are, the better off they will be.
"To be that close, to know we could come away with wins like that, to come up short, it's frustrating," freshman point guard Ryan Briscoe said. "You use that as fire."
In the first two games under the direction of first-year coach Ryan Hellenthal, the Hawks fell behind 18-0 in the first five minutes against nationally ranked Ferris State, had a shot in the waning seconds to force overtime against Grand Valley State and came home from the first road trip with two losses.
Even so, the Hawks carried an air of confidence into Monday's practice at Pepsi Arena.
"It showed we have a lot of fight in ourselves," Briscoe said. "It showed we could go out and compete with a lot of really good teams. What a lot of people think of us isn't really true this year. We have a lot of players on our team."
The challenge starting with Wednesday's home opener against Upper Iowa is to accentuate the talents of those players.
For a team that didn't return a starter from last season and recruited six junior college transfers, everything is a work in progress. Three different players scored in double figures, both games featured a different leading scorer, and the weekend ended with QU having more assists than turnovers.
Those are all positive signs.
"I learned it's going to take us as a collective unit, not just single people, to succeed," junior forward Marcus Hinton said.
That takes chemistry, which takes time to build.
"Everyday we practice, our chemistry gets better," Hinton said. "We're seeing where guys flow to on the floor, where they want to be, where they end up. So it gets easier to move the ball around."
Eventually, that will lead to more efficient possessions.
Quincy shot 37.5 percent from the field and just 40.9 percent from the free-throw line, taking just 22 free throws. The Hawks averaged 21.6 free-throw attempts per game last year.
Getting better shots in better positions to score will aid the shooting percentage, but it should allow the Hawks to get to the rim and the line more.
"It's sharing the ball in practice and trying to get to know each other's tendencies," Briscoe said. "It's getting the chemistry right. That will come over time in practice. Right now, it's about sharing the ball and trusting teammates."
The Hawks can trust this -- the effort appears like it always will be there.
"One thing we did know is we were going to compete to the best of our abilities and we were going to give it our all the entire game," Briscoe said. "It showed we could go out and hang with teams that are ranked in the country."