Prior to Thursday afternoon’s news that the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments were canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak and concerns, the organization was planning on continuing the two tournaments as planned, but with limited fans in attendance.
Creighton and the Big East Conference followed that stance in lieu of other conferences canceling their respective tournaments, allowing a couple hundred tickets set aside for family members and other necessary personnel to attend the conference tournament.
“We were allowed, I think, 200 people per team,” injured Creighton forward and La Lumiere graduate Jacob Epperson said. “It was just so weird because on one side you have the few fans that were allowed in, and you look over to the other side and you have all the cameramen and reporters just walking around and taking pictures at whatever angle they want. It was strange. I’ve never seen anything like it, especially at Madison Square Garden.”
Play continued on for the first half of Creighton’s quarterfinal match-up with St. John’s, and everything seemed to be going as planned. It was an obscure atmosphere, for sure. But it was just a taste of what the projected 2-seed Jays thought they would see soon in the NCAA Tournament, considering the news of the tournaments being canceled all together hadn’t broke yet.
Creighton coach Greg McDermott strolled into the MSG home locker room at halftime like any other game. He gave a speech instructing his team on how it could come back from a five-point halftime deficit and avoid an upset at the hands of the Red Storm.
Then McDermott addressed the team again shortly after, this time with different news. The tournament was canceled.
“About five minutes after (McDermott) gave his spiel of what we needed to do in the next half, he comes in and says the game’s canceled,” Epperson said. “It was super weird. We couldn’t believe it. But then everyone just started joking around, congratulating Jett (Canfield). He went on a tear in the last couple minutes and we talked about how he was the tournament MVP.”
Looking at it from a strictly sports angle, it makes sense the Jays would joke around a little after hearing the news, considering they won the Big East regular-season title. Their spot in the NCAA Tournament was locked in at the time. But now, for teams like them, No. 3 Dayton, No. 6 San Diego State and other small yet successful programs in 2019-20, their chances of making a run are now dashed.
Those seniors that worked so hard for their whole careers to get to this point as a contender, not just at mid-majors but at powerhouses like Duke and Michigan State, now won’t be able to see their determination come to fruition. It will always be remembered as a season of, “what if” for many; a feeling that something was taken away from them.
Epperson believes Creighton still has a good chance to see the same success it saw this year, as it returns all but two or three players, depending on whether or not junior guard Ty-Shon Alexander declares for the 2020 NBA Draft, which is also under suspension due to Corona virus concerns.
“It’s especially rough for some of these teams that might not get a chance,” Epperson said. “You know, the ones that very rarely get (to play in the NCAA Tournament) or aren’t always are as good as they are this year. It’s just a very rare opportunity for some schools.”
With the National Basketball Association’s season suspension, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that the NCAA is following their lead. NBA and Auburn basketball legend Charles Barkley was as outspoken as any on the subject during a Thursday morning interview on ESPN’s show, “Get Up.”
“You can’t have these players, even if there’s no fans in the stadium – you can’t have these players breathing on each other for two weeks,” Barkley said. “Even if they’re in a hotel, they’re going to be in different cities around the country... I know the kids want to play, but think about it. These kids are sweating, breathing, leaning on each other. That’s crazy. Even if you lose, you go back home, you don’t know if you’ve got the virus for (another) week or two.”