On March 12, just hours before game time, Purdue men’s basketball players heard one of the last things they wanted to hear.
The Big Ten Tournament was canceled because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Boilermakers were in shoot-around at Bankers Life Fieldhouse preparing for their first-round game against Ohio State when the decision was made.
“We were all pretty stunned,” senior forward Evan Boudreaux said. “We were just finishing up, and the news kinda came to everyone at once.”
Just days later, the NCAA canceled all championship tournaments.
The Boilermakers’ season was finished, and the careers of seniors Boudreaux and guards Jahaad Proctor and Tommy Luce came to an unceremonious end.
“It’s weird to just have everything taken away just like that, so instantly,” Boudreaux said. “It’s still kind of surreal that everything was just canceled.”
Having played 12 seasons of basketball between the three of them, each had to face the fact that his college career was over because of something entirely out of his control.
“It sucks how the season ended,” Luce said, “but it’s not our call. It’s the NCAA and Big Ten, and we just gotta deal with what they think is best.”
Proctor was unavailable for comment for this article.
While the decision came as a shock, it was not a complete surprise.
“We all were watching, the night before the NBA got suspended, and our game was supposed to go on with no fans, so we kind of knew that there was something leaning in that direction,” Boudreaux said. “But we still thought we’d be able to play that game with no fans and see what happens.”
Before the decision was made, each game in every college basketball tournament was scheduled to be played with only media and family members in attendance. After Rudy Gobert’s diagnosis with the virus and the apparent sickness of Nebraska head coach Fred Hoiberg during Nebraska’s game against Indiana, those precautions were decidedly not enough.
Hoiberg was not diagnosed with COVID-19, but rather Influenza A. But his sickness within the stadium added to a sense of paranoia.
The Boilers finished the regular season with a 16-15 overall record, going 9-11 in the Big Ten. After their last regular season game, head coach Matt Painter said the only way for the team to qualify for March Madness was if it won the Big Ten Tournament.
While those chances may have been slim, Boudreaux and Luce believe the team still had more to prove.
“I think as a team we showed that even though we weren’t the most consistent team, on any night we could beat anybody,” Boudreaux said. “When you get to tournament time and you’re playing at neutral sites, you can really accomplish anything.”
Luce thinks the team could have won the Big Ten Tournament.
“I know we struggled a little bit in conference, but I felt like our team was really talented, so the fact that we didn’t get the opportunity, it’s too bad,” he said.
Boudreaux transferred to Purdue two years ago after graduating from Dartmouth in three years, two of which he spent playing basketball. Earlier in the season, Boudreaux said he came to play at Purdue because he was “tired of losing” and wanted to join a winning team.
That worked out in his favor last year, as Purdue went to the Elite Eight and lost in overtime to eventual champion Virginia. Boudreaux’s role on that team was small, though.
This year, when Boudreaux’s contributions to the team were much more valuable, he was not given that same chance.
“You play the game to play in the postseason,” Boudreaux said. “That’s what everyone works for. It’s hard to have the reward taken away because that’s everything you want. As a senior not having another chance, it’s a little tough.”
Regardless of their personal strife, Boudreaux and Luce agreed the tournament cancellation was the right thing to do.
“I think it was fair and justified,” Boudreaux said. “In the moment when your career is taken away, it’s hard to put your head around it, but once you look at everything that’s going on around the world, and how many people are sick and the measures that public officials are taking, it’s pretty hard not to justify it.”
Looking back, Luce said he was satisfied.
“I wouldn’t change anything that happened during my career,” he said. “I got to be part of a really special time in Purdue basketball history.”
In his time at Purdue, Luce was a part of two Big Ten championships, three Sweet Sixteen runs and an Elite Eight run. He also never lost a game to IU.
Despite the unusual circumstances surrounding his own career — playing at two different schools, dealing with reduced playing time, overcoming injuries, his father’s health problems — Boudreaux is satisfied as well.
“It was a pretty long and kind of winding journey, but looking back on it I feel like I made the best out of the circumstances I was in,” he said.
Luce said he wants to continue to be around basketball in the next stages of his life. He is set to receive his degree in organizational leadership in May.
Boudreaux has a degree in sociology from Dartmouth and is set to receive his master’s degree in May. He’s had conversations with agents about the possibility of playing professionally in Europe next year, he says, but for now, Boudreaux plans to stay home and spend time with his family.