Atlantic 10 cancels rest of men’s basketball tournament; Division III tourney over for Amherst, Smith

  • A mostly empty Barclays Center is shown, Thursday in New York. The Atlantic 10 Tournament was supposed to be held this weekend, but the conference canceled its tournament amid growing concerns of COVID-19. STAFF PHOTO/JOSH WALFISH

  • The seats are empty at the Amway Center in Orlando, home of the NBA’s Orlando Magic, on Thursday, March 12, 2020. The NBA has suspended the season due to the coronavirus - as have other sports. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS) Stephen M. Dowell

  • Mike Lemcke, from Richmond, Va., sits in an empty Greensboro Coliseum after the NCAA college basketball games were cancelled at the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Greensboro, N.C., Thursday, March 12, 2020. The biggest conferences in college sports all canceled their basketball tournaments because of the new coronavirus, seemingly putting the NCAA Tournament in doubt. The vast majority of people recover from the new coronavirus. According to the World Health Organization,... Khadejeh Nikouyeh/News & Record

Staff Writer
Published: 3/12/2020 12:35:06 PM

NEW YORK — UMass had taken the court and was preparing to line up for the national anthem Thursday afternoon.

Then an eerie pause came over the mostly empty Barclays Center. Matt McCall was on the phone, waving his players off the court and the rest of the Minutemen were trying to get the message to Samba Diallo, who had already lined up for the anthem. Shortly after Diallo and his teammates were finally corralled and headed to the locker room, the official word came over the public address system – the Atlantic 10 had canceled the rest of its conference tournament due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The announcement came at 11:58 a.m., mere minutes before the eighth-seeded Minutemen were set to take on No. 9 VCU in the second round of the A10 tournament. The decision was in line with almost every other conference around the country, which began canceling tournaments minutes before the Atlantic 10 made the call. Thorr Bjorn, Rhode Island’s athletics director and chair of the Atlantic 10’s athletics director committee, said the conference knew Wednesday night that cancellation was a possibility, but they tried to wait until the last moment to keep the tournament on schedule.

“You always hate to have to pull people off the court, but at the end of the day, we were trying to see if we could get the games off,” Bjorn said. “But really, the right decision was made even in the last hour to pull the plug on the tournament.”

“This has been a very quick process and a very quick discussion because things are changing so rapidly,” Bjorn added. “At the end of the day, the benefit and health and safety of our student-athletes, fans, coaches, family members is the most critically important aspect of our jobs. Obviously disappointed for our student-athletes in not being able to participate in this incredible experience. It’s something we feel bad about, but at the same time, there was no other decision.”

Bjorn said the decision to cancel the tournament was purely precautionary and not a reaction to anyone testing positive for COVID-19. The decision by the conferences to cancel basketball tournaments started a domino effect for schools that had to make decisions about its spring sports teams.

Roughly 14 minutes after the A10 canceled its tournament, UMass announced it had suspended all travel for its varsity programs for spring break training and competition. Within the hour, Hockey East canceled its tournament and by 1:45 p.m., UMass extended its policy to suspend all games amid the outbreak. The Colonial Athletic Association, of which UMass men’s lacrosse is a member, said it would suspend all spring sports activities until further notice.

UMass hockey coach Greg Carvel was preparing his Minutemen to face Northeastern in Game 1 of their best-of-three series on Friday. The Minutemen were the second seed in the tournament and ranked ninth in the nation, according to USA Today.

Carvel tweeted: “I’m absolutely devastated right now. I feel for everyone in our program. The sacrifices that are made year round to earn the right to play at this time of year can not be minimized. I was so excited for this group to make another NCAA run. But life goes on & I am very grateful.”

The NCAA announced later that all postseason tournaments were canceled. This includes the Division III men’s and women’s tournaments that were resuming Friday with the Sweet 16 round.

Smith College was scheduled to face Messiah at Tufts. It would have been the Pioneers’ first appearance in the Sweet 16.

“We are obviously extremely disappointed for our student-athletes and coaches,” Smith athletic director Kristin Hughes said in a statement. “But also share everyone’s concern for the health and well-being of our community. We are fortunate that we have no seniors on this team. So this group will have another shot at it. I am proud of how they have handled this adversity. They continue to raise the bar for what it means to be a Smith student-athlete.”

The Amherst College women’s team was scheduled to play George Fox University at LeFrak Gymnasium. The Mammoths, like Tufts, had planed to play in front of empty gyms.

“While I feel disappointed for our players and coaches who worked so hard this season to have it end this way, I totally respect the decision of the NCAA to prioritize health and safety,” Amherst coach G.P Gromacki said in a statement. “I also appreciate Amherst’s administration’s decisions, which received a lot of criticism, but were also made out of an investment in the health and safety of our student-athletes.”

Mount Holyoke also announced Thursday it is suspending its regular and championship seasons for varsity sports. The NEWMAC Conference announced it is canceling its spring regular season conference schedule and postseason championships.

“We recognize the disappointment that this decision will bring to our student-athletes, families and fans but we believe this is in the best interest of the safety and well-being of our students and surrounding communities,” the NEWMAC Presidents Council said in a statement.

UMass coach Matt McCall said he was unsure whether Thursday’s game would be played, which added to the normal pregame anxiety he feels the night before a game. He said the Minutemen were obviously disappointed they couldn’t play in the conference tournament, but he and the players both respected the decision the Atlantic 10 made at the last minute.

The Minutemen finish McCall’s third season 14-17 overall and 8-10 in the Atlantic 10. UMass is scheduled to lose only one scholarship player off this year’s team – center Djery Baptiste – to give them two scholarships, both of which were accounted for during the November signing period with Jahvon Garcia and Cairo McCrory inking letters of intent with the Minutemen.

“I told our team once we got in the locker room after the floor was cleared that 10 years from now, they’re going to remember exactly where they were when this happened,” McCall said. “As a coach, last night as this unfolded, it’s happened so fast. You don’t sleep much the night before a game anyway, you’re trying to fill out your play card and figure out how we’re going to attack VCU’s press and every 30 minutes, it seemed like I was checking my phone or checking Twitter to see if this game was even going to be played.”


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