The Men of Mackey, a team made of Purdue alumni and other former collegiate basketball players, passed its first test in The Basketball Tournament Sunday night, beating 14-seed Heartfire 85-79.
The arena in Columbus, Ohio, was empty of fans in Purdue's first official bid in the single-elimination tournament, the winner of which will earn a prize of $1 million. The 24-team field has been cut in half, with games continuing today and tomorrow to determine the quarterfinal round.
In the "Elam Ending" format, where the first team to 85 points wins, the Men of Mackey trailed 77-71. A 12-2 run followed, with former University of Washington guard Justin Dentmon pouring in 5 of his team-high 32 points, to put the score at 83-79.
Two points shy of victory, Dentmon dribbled right into a fadeaway jump shot that bounced off the rim into the hands of former Purdue center Isaac Haas. Haas gathered the rebound and scored the winning basket, earning cheers from teammates in lieu of the usual roar of an arena.
“We forced them into bad shots,” Haas said to a TBT writer following the win. The 7-foot-3-inch center lodged a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. “Credit to everyone on our team. We did it, and now we’re moving on.”
Nineteen-seed Men of Mackey advances to play at 4 p.m. Tuesday against 3-seed Boeheim's Army, a team full of alumni from Syracuse University, according to the tournament's website. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN.
Other former Boilermakers on the team are forward Evan Boudreaux, center Jacquil Taylor and guard Jon Octeus. Guard Johnny Hill, a 2016 graduate, was set to play in the tournament before testing positive for the coronavirus prior to Sunday's game, General Manager Ryan Kay said.
Kay, a Purdue graduate who had the idea to start the alumni team, said teammates were isolated upon arrival to the team's hotel on Tuesday last week. Only after test results returned negative did they see each other, first practicing Thursday night.
"After (Hill's) result was positive, he was moved out of his room to ensure no contact with others," Kay said.
The tournament was pared down from nine cities to one as the virus's spread began to intensify. Along with arenas devoid of fans, other measures are being taken to prevent a possible outbreak.
Teams are prohibited from interacting with one another, Kay said. No one involved in the tournament is allowed to leave the hotel for any purpose but to practice, gather in a team meeting room or play games. There are four practice courts, each equipped with an exercise bike, weights and basketballs, all of which are disinfected after each team finishes its two-hour practice session.
"They say we're in a bubble," Kay said, "and I would say the bubble is really tight."