The sound of shoes squeaking, crowds cheering and the anticipation of confetti falling in Katy came to a screeching halt Thursday.
The shock of the decision to cancel the Southland Tournament resonated with head coach Joe Golding and his team when the news broke.
“It’s been a crazy 48 hours,” Golding said. “Obviously they don’t give you a booklet on how to handle this. There’s a lot of different emotions, and I just feel sorry for our team and our three seniors.”
Senior guard Payton Ricks, Trey Lenox and forward Hayden Howell played in what would be their final collegiate game Saturday. Golding took the time to honor the seniors following the Southland Conference’s announcement.
“We had a team meeting and let our seniors talk and discussed their careers and everything they’ve done for our program,” Golding said. “I just thanked them. I thanked them for the journey. We call every senior in our program a journey, and I think it was an incredible journey.”
Ricks and Lenox both had the opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament last season against Kentucky, but Howell had been recovering from ankle surgery.
“He was a part of our team but didn’t get to suit up,” Golding said. “After all the rehab, he came back and wanted one more chance at Katy and to get it taken away like that is just painful.”
Ricks said once the news broke, it took the team by a surprise.
“It shocked all of us,” Ricks said. “We weren’t ready for it. It felt like a movie, so it was hard to digest at first. Everybody let their emotions out, and I didn’t think I would get that emotional. It definitely was a hard pill to swallow.”
Despite ending the season and the seniors’ collegiate career short, Golding and the rest of the team agreed with the decision.
“The objective at all times is to protect our student athletes,” Golding said. “At the end of the day, we want to me sure they are safe at all times.”
The Wildcats finish the year with a 20-11 record, winning eight out of its last nine games of the season. Golding believes that despite the bitter ending, ACU’s program is set for the future.
“I think our culture is better than it has ever been,” Golding said. “We have an identity in our program now, and I just thanked them for that.”