The pomp and circumstance surrounding the Carrier Classic onboard the USS Yorktown was akin to the Final Four. But condensation on the court as tipoff neared put a damper on the festivities.
An hour after the initial delay, Mike Whalen, director of Morale Entertainment, decided the risks of playing weren’t worth it. Ultimately, the health of the student-athletes was the reason for the cancellation.
Several Marquette players slid from near half-court to the three-point line just prior to the scheduled 7 p.m. tipoff. The only area of the court affected was the end nearest to the ocean.
Volunteers working at the game, Ohio State and Marquette team managers and even players from both teams helped towel off the floor. But after another 20-minute runoff the condensation had not dissipated.
A contingency plan was comprised prior to the event, but it was too late to execute it. If inclement weather was in the forecast, the teams were going to play at the Citadel, located less than 15 miles from the Yorktown.
The Ohio State and Notre Dame women’s teams played at 4 p.m. and had minor issues with slippery spots on the court. Ohio State lost, 57-51.
Whalen said the warm, sunny day actually contributed to the problems for the men’s game. Because the court warmed up so much, the moisture was produced much more easily when the sun went down.
On Wednesday night, it rained in the greater Charleston area and the floor was not covered.
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith and Marquette athletic director Larry Williams said the two schools are not likely to make up the game this season at a different venue. They did leave the door open for a future game between the schools, though.
“We’ll always have ongoing discussions for two great basketball teams to get together,” Williams said.
Smith said he doesn't believe Ohio State will add a game at any point this season to make up for the no contest.
Whalen said he didn’t know if refunds would be given for the tickets that were purchased, though he added almost 90 percent of the 4,500 tickets were given away as part of the Wounded Warrior Project.
To have the opportunity to play onboard the USS Yorktown taken away was a disappointment for the players and coaches. Point guard Aaron Craft, who has an older brother serving in Afghanistan, said being able to play in the Superdome for the Final Four followed by an aircraft carrier was tough to top.
“We’re definitely disappointed not being able to play,” he said. “We were geared up. We got the juices flowing in warmups.
“But we got to spend time with people that are serving. We can’t be too disappointed about not playing the game. We’re thankful and blessed.”
While the team was still in Columbus, Matta gave some orders of his own to Ohio State. He told them that when they came in contact with soldiers to look them in the eye and give them the utmost respect.
“This guy next to me (Craft), you don’t think he knew he was playing for something bigger,” Matta said. “He didn’t want to leave the court.”
Following Marquette’s practice on the ship Friday, Buzz Williams raved about the event and what it meant to be a part of.
“This is one of the top five things I’ve ever done in my life,” he said. “I think it's something our guys will always cherish. It’s bigger than winning and losing.”
Matta also believed there was a larger purpose to the event. Two college basketball games were only a small piece to what Morale Entertainment organized the past two days.
“I felt like we would have a pretty good gauge (on how good Ohio State is), but after yesterday’s practice the wind was howling and I said to myself, 'this could be ugly.'
“Ultimately, we brought down nine service people. Eight of them were in our film room last night. I can’t explain what that meeting was like for them, to sit in there and take pictures with players and meet the players. We didn’t play tonight, but I know this, the purpose was served.”
Said Williams: “The game was secondary.”
Ohio State opens the season against Albany in Value City Arena at 2 p.m. Sunday.