On an ordinary night, the postgame story would follow a similar script.
A shorthanded Nebraska basketball team dropped its 17th game in a row Wednesday night, 89-64 to Indiana. The Huskers battled Indiana in front of a pro-Hoosier crowd for the duration of the first half, trading blows with a team desperate for an NCAA Tournament appearance.
Junior guard Thorir Thorbjarnarson cut to the basket to give Nebraska a 31-26 advantage with 4:36 left in the first half. The Hoosiers responded, closing the first half on a 16-1 run to give Indiana a lead it wouldn’t relinquish. Nebraska shot 29% from the field and 25% from 3-point range in the second half and Indiana buried the Huskers inside with 40 points in the paint in the game.
Hoosier freshman forward Trayce Jackson-Davis lived up to his billing as one of the best young big men in the country, thrashing the Huskers for 11 points and 17 rebounds. In Indiana’s three matchups with Nebraska this season, Jackson-Davis totaled 54 points and 45 rebounds. Nebraska freshman forward Kevin Cross finished with a career-high 23 points on 7-17 shooting.
Those would be the storylines on an ordinary night, but tonight wasn’t one of those.
COVID-19 has run rampant throughout communities worldwide over the past month. Over 120,000 people have been infected and thousands have died. The coronavirus has also led to hundreds of sporting events being cancelled, played without any spectators or played with only essential team personnel, media and family members present.
On Tuesday, the Ivy League announced it wasn’t playing its postseason basketball tournaments or any spring sports. A few hours later, Nebraska basketball announced the additions of sophomore quarterback Noah Vedral and redshirt freshman offensive tackle Brant Banks to the basketball roster in the wake of Cam Mack and Dachon Burke Jr.'s suspensions.
As the Huskers arrived prepared to play on Wednesday night, news regarding the coronavirus became more and more shocking. First, the NCAA announced it would be playing both the men’s and women’s NCAA Tournament without fans. Then, the Big Ten announced it would be closing its conference tournaments and spring sports to the general public.
In a pregame interview with the Big Ten Network, Nebraska head coach Fred Hoiberg admitted he was feeling a bit under the weather, but was still planning on coaching.
Finally, and most shocking, was the announcement that Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert had the coronavirus. The NBA was promptly suspended shortly after Gobert’s positive diagnosis.
News continued by the second while fans in Indianapolis booed the Big Ten’s halftime message that the rest of this week’s games would be held behind closed doors.
Reality began to set in. Both on and off the court.
Nebraska began to fade. The Huskers’ valiant, seven-man effort fell flat. Nebraska’s offense fell flat as Archie Miller's seemingly endless bench continued to punch the Huskers in the mouth. Cross did lead a valiant comeback, drilling a 3-pointer to cut Indiana’s lead to 70-61. It was all the Huskers had left.
The Husker bench felt that drain of energy too. All game, Hoiberg looked fatigued. Video began to surface of his demeanor on the bench, and suddenly something that seemed so far away began to seem closer to home. Common shock turned into genuine concern and confusion. Hoiberg’s heart issues are well-documented, but with the news that’s transpired over the last 48 hours, it’s hard not to think about the worst-case scenario at the moment.
The best-case scenario for fans still in attendance during the last three minutes of the game came to fruition when Banks and Vedral checked into the game. Bankers Life Fieldhouse roared every time they touched the ball. It was the loudest that the venue had been all night. The crowd let out a collective groan as Banks missed two free throws with 1:41 left.
Hardly anyone noticed that Hoiberg had left the floor five minutes prior.
The final buzzer sounded and Nebraska’s season officially ended. Neither team shook hands with each other, opting not to do the “Indy Bump” demonstrated on the big screen between games to limit the spread of bacteria. Hoiberg was immediately taken to a local hospital, the rest of the Nebraska basketball team was quarantined and nobody knew what was going on.
“We’ll brace ourselves for what happens next,” Indiana head coach Archie Miller said postgame. “When world experts [on disease] recommend certain things, we better listen.”
All that can be done now is speculate. Nobody knows the future of not only the Big Ten tournament, but any sporting event for the foreseeable future.
What makes sports so great is that they’re supposed to be an escape from the trials and tribulations of everyday life. For a while, that was the case on Wednesday night. Fans were engaged, the Hoosier fans were loud and Nebraska and Indiana were playing competitive basketball. Sports are unifying, and the worst part is that we’re not sure when that unifying feeling will return.
At this point, I’m not sure where facts end and hysteria begins. What I do know is that the best thing to do is to keep yourself informed, listen to those that know what they’re talking about and wash your hands. The only things we can do now is worry and wait.
Could this all be an overreaction? Sure. But if the past 48 hours have taught me anything, it’s that it is better to be safe than sorry. Appreciate the good times because you’ll appreciate them much more when they’re not around.