Isaac Likekele had nine seconds to run the length of the floor and attempt a game-winning bucket.
He only needed five.
After falling behind by one, Likekele took the ball and sprinted 94 feet, going coast-to-coast for the go-ahead layup against Iowa State. The Oklahoma State men’s basketball team had moved on to the next round to play No. 1 Kansas.
They survived and advanced, earning the right to play another game.
Except that game will never happen.
Likekele didn’t think that would be the last play of the Cowboys’ season. OSU’s seniors didn’t think that was the last time they would leave the floor as college athletes.
The Big 12 has cancelled its postseason conference tournament because of rising concerns about COVID-19.
After initially deciding to ban fans from the remaining games, the conference followed suit of every other major conference, cancelling the tournament all together.
The coronavirus concerns have even forced the NCAA to cancel March Madness, one of the biggest sporting events of the year.
It’s a huge blow to surprise teams such as No. 3 Dayton, who had its best shot in program history at securing a national championship this year.
The coronavirus scare has impacted college athletes at every level. It stretches far beyond the NCAA tournament teams.
OSU (18-14 overall, 7-11 Big 12) was a long shot to make the tournament. It would have needed to go on a real run in the Big 12 Championship to have a chance at being a part of the big dance. Realistically, they probably would have needed to win the tournament to get in.
Although the Cowboys were likely going to make the NIT Tournament and likely host the first few games at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
Getting as much postseason experience as possible would have been a huge benefit for a young team that currently won’t have any seniors on next season’s roster. Most returning players will have only one game of postseason experience, while Likekele and Yor Anei will have just two.
It’s something important to consider for a program that has high expectations next year with No. 1-recruit Cade Cunningham coming to Stillwater. Players have played meaningful minutes, but postseason games are different. Those experiences are valuable.
With OSU’s season officially over, it’s fair to say it didn’t go as expected.
Excitement around the team’s hot start quickly turned cold when Likekele missed a month with mononucleosis and the Cowboys started conference play 0-9.
Their turnaround at the end of the season does offer signs of encouragement.
Likekele returned to form, and freshmen Kalib Boone and Avery Anderson began to show their potential. The Cowboys won 8 of their last 12 games with an adapted offensive mindset, while still emphasizing defense first.
OSU will have to build without the majority of its veteran leadership though.
OSU’s senior captains, Lindy Waters, Cam McGriff and Thomas Dziagwa, got to end their careers on a victory, but not in a way they ever could have expected.
Coach Mike Boynton said the NCAA should handle eligibility differently because of the unprecedented circumstances.
“Seniors, if they want, should have another year,” Boynton said. “Special permission on scholarship numbers for an unprecedented circumstance. Next year only.”
For everyone involved, these are uncharted waters.
But this is the new reality in college sports for the foreseeable future.