FARGO — The Vinnie Shahid power drive to the hoop. The Tyson Ward creative move under the basket, after hitting a 3-pointer on the previous possession. The Jared Samuelson pure jump shot.
Those are all permanent memories now. The NCAA announced on Thursday, March 12, that it is canceling the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments in light of the coronavirus outbreak that has brought the country’s major sporting events and leagues to a standstill.
It means NDSU’s spectacular showing in the Summit League championship game could be the last for seniors like Shahid, Ward, Samuelson and Chris Quayle. That was the toughest pill to swallow for head coach Dave Richman.
"I'm devastated to be honest for our guys," he said. "Particularly the seniors. I feel like they earned the opportunity to keep playing as champions. Now they don't get that opportunity. I'm not saying I don't agree with the decisions, that's up to the professionals and I want to make that crystal clear. But it's heartbreaking."
The season ended at 25-8, the second-most victories in school history behind the 2008-09 and 2013-14 teams that each went 26-7 and the 1924-25 team that went 26-5. It would have taken an upset by this year’s team in the NCAA tournament to match that, but now that dream will not happen.
My heart just hit the floor. I feel for our guys on this team, especially our seniors. If people only knew how much they invested to get to this point! Of course the safety of our student athletes must come first. Just wish there was another way! https://t.co/fy9JWnjUCJ
My heart just hit the floor. I feel for our guys on this team, especially our seniors. If people only knew how much they invested to get to this point! Of course the safety of our student athletes must come first. Just wish there was another way! https://t.co/fy9JWnjUCJ— Kyan Brown (@KyanBrown) March 12, 2020
It appeared likely the Bison were headed for a No. 15 seed in the tournament, the field of which would have been announced on Sunday. All the major conference tournaments were canceled by Thursday.
"Its tough, it should be tough," Richman said. "I'm glad it's tough because when you put something into it like we do, it's going to hurt."
The NDSU players gathered at about 2 p.m., but the news of the NCAA's decision broke after they left their meeting. They found out on social media.
"Hurting for our seniors," Bison freshman Maleeck Harden-Hayes said in a tweet. "Hate it for it to end like this. Thank you for all the sacrifices and dedication you put in each day. I appreciate all the memories we had as a team this year."
The NCAA’s move was probably inevitable after Kansas, the top-ranked team in the country, and Duke both said they were suspending athletic team travel and would decline a bid to the NCAA tournament.
Meanwhile, the NDSU football team will not begin spring football practice on March 25 as previously scheduled. But that doesn't mean the Bison won't get in the 15 allowable practices. Head coach Matt Entz said the fact the school is going to online classes only will cause an adjustment in the schedule.
"We need to make sure the health and academic success of our kids are a priority," he said. "Hopefully we'll get spring ball in, just later in the spring."
But like everything on Thursday, it's a fluid situation for football.
"Things change hourly right now," Entz said.
Nothing has changed, as of Thursday anyway, with NDSU's pro day scheduled for March 26. Players expected to work out under the eyes of NFL scouts are offensive lineman Zack Johnson, tight end Ben Ellefson, cornerback Marquise Bridges, safety James Hendricks, running backs Ty Brooks and Dimitri Williams, receiver Jimmy Kepouros and defensive tackle Cole Karcz. Defensive end Derrek Tuszka, who participated in the NFL Combine at the end of February, may also be on hand for drills.
NDSU's other spring activities appear to be shelved. Done for the season are the six Bison wrestlers who qualified for the NCAA Championships set for March 19-21 in Minneapolis. It means senior Cam Sykora will end his career as NDSU's first Big 12 Conference tournament champion, but will not have a chance to prove it on the big stage. Also qualified were freshman Dylan Droegemueller at 141, freshman Jared Franek at 157, senior Andrew Fogarty at 165, senior Cordell Eaton at 197 and sophomore Brandon Metz at 285.
The Bison had five that qualified for the NCAA indoor track and field championships set for this weekend in Albuquerque, N.M. The men were going to send throwers Alex Talley and Kristoffer Thomsen, and the women qualified throwers Akele Moton, Shelby Gunnells and Maddy Nilles. The NCAA also canceled the outdoor championships essentially leaving the Bison track and field season in limbo.
Earlier in the day, the Summit League announced it is suspending all regular-season competitions on conference-member campuses through March 30, but the NCAA announcement of canceling all spring events made that old news.
“With the continued spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), we will continue to put the safety and well-being of our student-athletes, coaches, administrators, and fans at the forefront of our league’s collective decision making,” said league commissioner Tom Douple in a statement. “This is a fluid situation, and this is the right precaution to take at this time. We will continue to provide timely updates on the status of spring sports competitions when those are available.”
Bison softball coach Darren Mueller, as of late Thursday afternoon, was still trying to get clarification if canceling the NCAA Women's College World Series and the entire tournament leading up to it meant the entire season was shelved.
"What I'm hearing is everybody is assuming the season is over with," Mueller said. "I'm trying to find out if it's just the championship and you can still compete for a conference championship. Everything I've read is it's just the World Series ... but we're anticipating it's the season."
The Bison baseball team was scheduled for its home opener in April 3. Softball was to open its home season a day later.