CLEVELAND, Tenn. (WDEF) — From jubilee to misery, the Lee men’s and women’s basketball teams had their tournament runs come to an end before the first ball was even tipped. Now, the task is figuring out what’s next, remembering what was, and not dwelling on what could have been — all while the tournament banners come down.
In a place meant to be packed with sounds of cheering crowds, screaming coaches, and whistling referees, all you could hear in Paul Dana Walker Arena Sunday was the buzz of the overhead lights.
The championship banners had been hung, but no basketball would be played, as Division II’s top women’s basketball teams end the season without closure.
“For our players, I mean, they were so heartbroken,” Lady Flames Coach Marty Rowe said. “To work this hard, and this process of, we went from eighth seed, to sixth seed, to fourth seed, and now to finally get this chance to be the number one seed, I mean, obviously they were so disappointed.”
An arena meant to be filled with some of @NCAADII’s best now sits empty and quiet. Tonight at 11, hear from both @LeeUWBball & @LeeUMBball as they try to wrap their heads around an unprecedented end to their historic seasons. @LeeUFlames pic.twitter.com/fdvoriQJ78
— Angela Moryan (@SidelineStormer) March 15, 2020
Just a week ago, the Lee Lady Flames found out they would host part of the NCAA Tournament. After losing in the Gulf South Conference semi-finals, Lee was ready for retribution.
However, the NCAA’s decision to cancel all remaining championships stole that chance away.
“For us, going from that emotional state of ‘Can’t wait to get back on the court’ to ‘Hey, we’re going to host and can’t wait to get back on the court’ to have a great practice on Thursday and can’t wait to get back on the court,” Rowe said. “Then [we went] to the emotion of ‘We’re not going to get back on the court.’ Just to be at such a high and then experience the very lowest of low before you get a chance to play again, I’m not sure how you handle that.”
The men’s basketball team left their historic season to “what ifs,” as well. The Flames were already in Lakeland, Florida, for their first tournament appearance in program history when the news broke.
“When the news came, for your seniors, I think it’s just a moment of shock,” Flames Coach Bubba Smith said. “You know that when you lose your last game there’s some finale to that, but you never anticipate that it would come through this way.”
The Flames finished their season at Top Golf — not the ending they wanted, but the ending that’s needed.
“They’ve earned the opportunity to be in the postseason, and you want them to be able to play that out,” Smith said. “But I think when you take a step back and start to look at this thing in the big picture, you know it’s the right decision.”
Both teams are choosing to focus on the positives from two seasons that will never be forgotten.
“I don’t want us to think about what got away or what could have been,” Rowe said. “I really want us to think about our accomplishments and relish in the fact that we had a great season. A season’s going to come to an end at some point, and this just happens to be one of the, something I hope I never have to be a part of again.”
Through it all, Smith had one resounding message, that speaks to all athletes during this unprecedented time:
“When you look at it from a life perspective, there’s just things every single day that come into your life that you can’t control. I think that you have to have a foundation. You have to have a faith. You have to have something that you can rely on when these moments come. They’re somewhat scary. There’s unknowns. But you have to have something that you can fall back on, and for us, it’s our faith.”
In a moment of levity, Smith reminded Rowe that the men have less losses in the NCAA Tournament than the ladies. They’ve been to the tournament, yet haven’t played — therefore, haven’t lost — a single game.