Quincy University men's basketball coach Ryan Hellenthal described Thursday night's buzzer-beating victory against Lewis as a "huge program win."
That's more apropos than he may realize.
Set to face Illinois-Springfield at 3:15 p.m. Saturday at Pepsi Arena, the Hawks have the opportunity for their first four-game winning streak since the 2016-17 season. Moreso, the 69-68 victory punctuated by Viktor Kovacevic's lob basket with four-tenths of a second remaining helped the Hawks clear a number of hurdles.
It was the first time in three seasons they beat a team with a winning record in Great Lakes Valley Conference play.
It's the first time in three seasons they have been at .500 or better in GLVC play in January or beyond.
It's the second time this group has won three conference games in a row, matching the 2018 stretch in which the Hawks beat McKendree, Missouri-St. Louis and Missouri S&T in succession, although none of those opponents had a winning record.
Collectively, what does that mean? The Hawks are legitimately in the conversation for a berth in the GLVC Tournament for the first time since Hellenthal took over as head coach.
The league uses a point rating system to determine the eight teams which qualify for the postseason tournament. Currently, the Hawks (9-5, 3-3 GLVC) rank 12th with an opportunity to make some headway over the next three days when they face UIS and Truman State at home.
Truman State has a winning record in GLVC play, and victories over teams with .500 or better records carry more weight. Next week's games at McKendree and Southern Indiana offer similar opportunities as well.
There are 14 games remaining in the regular season, 11 of which come against the teams ahead of the Hawks in the point rating system. The chance to make a big move exists, and the Hawks already have a launching point.
It took place Thursday night by beating a physical team at its own game.
"We wouldn't have out-physicaled anyone a year ago," Hellenthal said. "We're starting to get that mindset that for us to win games we have to be the tougher team. We talked about that all week, how Lewis prides itself on being the tougher team when it's a heavyweight battle.
"We've got to get to the point we can win these by being the tougher, more physical team. We did that. Now we have to go do it again."
The Hawks understand that.
"This is good for our confidence and our growth, but we have to get back to work," senior forward Aziz Fadika said. "We have things to clean up, and it's a quick turnaround. We'll enjoy this, but we'll get back to work because there's more at stake and more to accomplish."
The reality is those things are now attainable because the Hawks proved they have the resolve, toughness and the character it takes to thrive.