Yeshiva, in a tournament venue kept empty by coronavirus, faces WPI ... and sundown

Tyler Hod of Yeshiva warms up prior to playing against WPI in a Division III tournament game at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, on Friday.


By CHUCK CULPEPPER | The Washington Post | Published: March 6, 2020

BALTIMORE — The NCAA Division III men's basketball tournament on Friday afternoon tipped off at Johns Hopkins — 80 minutes after schedule, with one side fretting slightly that extreme circumstances might cause it to abandon the game before the final horn.

Already, in a scenario that kept outdoing itself for strangeness, nearly empty bleachers marked the setting as Yeshiva University of New York aimed to extend its magical season and its 27-game winning streak at 1,100-seat Goldfarb Gym. The game was being played without fans, a decision announced by Johns Hopkins late Thursday because of coronavirus concerns. Then, tip-off was delayed from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. to 2:20 as the opponent, Worcester Polytechnic Institute of Massachusetts, awaited clearance to play from its administration.

As the national anthem played at 2:16 p.m., a scan of the two sets of long bleachers and the two sets of small bleachers registered an unofficial count of 14 spectators unaffiliated with teams, media or game management.

And then, the Yeshiva players got going with the customary kippot on their heads and perhaps a gnawing concern in the backs of their minds. Shabbat would come at 5:46, ahead of sundown at 6:04, meaning they should be safe to finish on time, but it might be prudent to avoid overtime. The issue provoked pregame discussions among coaches and others about whether there would be official (or "media") timeouts.

There would.

The first came at 14:59 of the first half, with the score tied at 9, the time 2:27 p.m., and the gym sounds limited to the squeaking of sneakers and the vociferous chanting of the bench player for Yeshiva (27-1).

Whatever would happen from there, Yeshiva players might have to rush from finishing the team's second NCAA tournament game in three years — it lost in the first round in 2018 — then shower (if that), then return to the hotel and prepare for observance.

Already, the Maccabees' lodging had changed. On Thursday night, a Baltimore-area hotel had canceled their reservations over fears of coronavirus. A student at Yeshiva, an Orthodox Jewish University located in Manhattan, had tested positive for the virus this week.

In that same national and global concern, WPI (20-7) had waited for approval to play, as tipoff kept shifting. "We've been monitoring the outbreak since January, following the guidance of local, regional and national health officials," said Andrew Baron, WPI's associate director of public relations. He said the school had canceled its international student trips for this spring.

"I think we have confidence that we're making educated, informed decisions," Baron said, and added, "This has shifted dramatically on the over the past 36 hours, even over the last 12." He referred in part to Gov. Larry Hogan's declaration of emergency after Maryland's first three confirmed positive cases.

With tip-off finally, apparently confirmed, players emerged for warm-ups at about 1:20. They prepared to Dreamville's "Down Bad," Meek Mill's "Monster" and Justin Rarri's "W2leezy," blaring through the neat, cavernous gym. Almost an hour later, introductions finally occurred, with players and coaches sharing fist touches.

By halftime, a masterful Yeshiva led 51-30 at 3:01 p.m., and overtime did seem unlikely. The Maccabees put up another 51 points in the second half and their 102-78 victory put them into the second round.

Eitan Halpert of Yeshiva looks on prior to playing against WPI in a Division III tournament game at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore on Friday.

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