Years from now, the women’s basketball programs for Morgan State and Delaware State might be the answer to a thought-provoking trivia question. Which teams played the last college basketball game of the 2019-20 season before the NCAA canceled all winter and spring sports due to concerns over the coronavirus outbreak?
“It’s actually pretty wild,” Bears senior forward Chelsea Mitchell said Friday. “I was just like, ‘Wow, we were really the last team to play before the whole coronavirus pandemic.’ It’s just crazy to even think because this is the kind of stuff you read in history books. You don’t think you would be in this time.”
Shortly after the Bears’ 64-63 win against the Hornets in a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament quarterfinal on Thursday afternoon at the Norfolk Scope Arena in Norfolk, Virginia, the NCAA announced that it had put an end to the academic year’s athletics calendar.
Five minutes after the NCAA’s decision, the MEAC suspended all sports competition.
Even though Morgan State’s victory was highlighted on ESPN on Thursday evening, it was of little consolation to a group of players who thought they could bring home the university’s first league tournament championship.
“We already had it in our heads that we were going to win the MEAC tournament,” senior point guard Jihayah Chavis said Friday. “We were going to give it everything that we had. So to hear the news was kind of heartbreaking. We couldn’t believe it.”
Even before the 2 p.m. tip-off, the players were well aware of what had occurred in the sports world. The NBA had suspended its season Wednesday night after Utah Jazz forward Rudy Gobert had tested positive for COVID-19, the respiratory disease that has generated at least 2,033 cases in the United States and 47 deaths, according to CNN.
Mitchell, a Columbia resident and Atholton graduate, had been texting Towson senior guard Mariah Gray, an Ellicott City resident, before her game when Gray informed her around noon that the Tigers’ season was over after the Colonial Athletic Association had canceled its tournament. Chavis said the players gathered to pray that they would be allowed to continue to play the game, which served as a much-needed distraction from sobering news outside of the arena.
“Throughout the whole game, we were just staying present,” Mitchell said. “We were focusing on each other and doing what we could to win the game for each other. We really weren’t thinking about what’s next besides the next game. We weren’t thinking about the virus and everything that had been affected. After the game, we were still thinking that we were going to play Norfolk State on Friday. We were so excited, and then right when we got to the locker room, we found out that the tournament had been canceled.”
Morgan State athletic director Edward Scott informed the players of the MEAC’s impending decision.
“When we heard the news, tears just fell because we knew we had a chance to win the MEAC tournament,” Chavis said. “To hear that and to hear that our chances had been blown, everyone was just stunned. We had much more to prove.”
After the initial wave of emotion though, Bears coach Edward Davis Jr. said the players settled into a calm.
“I think they understood why,” he said. “This is bigger than basketball, this is bigger than anything else going on. We had never seen this before, and it’s going to change our way of life. The girls in my opinion were very prepared for that.”
While the team celebrated with dinner at a nearby Red Lobster, Mitchell drove home with her mother and grandmother. She said being denied a chance to continue to play had yet to fully sink in.
“Still to this day, I’m trying to process everything,” she said. “I couldn’t believe that I was driving home after I just won. It was like, I needed to be there and play again. It’s something I couldn’t process at the time, and I’m still having a hard time processing it.”
Morgan State’s 17-13 record included a five-game winning streak that helped the program earn the No. 3 seed in the conference tournament. Chavis admitted that those accomplishments have been overshadowed by the anticlimactic ending.
“We worked so hard day in and day out,” she said. “Even off the court, we made bonds within the team. We just knew that we had a chance. Everyone was feeling good. And then to hear something like that, it was like everything we did was a waste because in the end, no one got anything.”
Davis, who wrapped up his fourth season leading the Bears and received his 400th career win, acknowledged that he will be left wondering what his team could have fully achieved.
“The what-if part will always be there,” he said. “But as we know, what-ifs will never be satisfied. There’s a little disappointment here and there, but understanding the overall picture, you have a tendency to kind of move on.”
Chavis said she could not predict how 10 or 20 years down the road, she would look back on her senior year.
“Looking back, I will probably wish that I could do it all over again,” she said. “If they could have waited two more days, then the tournament would have been over. We just wanted to prove to people that we worked hard for it.”
Mitchell, however, said she thinks the current crisis will harden her and her senior classmates for the better.
“I think it’s going to be something that I can look back on and say, ‘This helped me grow. This happened for a reason,’” she said. “I think it will give all the seniors across the country something to look back on and see that you can face any challenge and use that in order to grow. So I’ll probably just use it to tell myself that I can do anything that’s possible.”