MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (AP) — Ohio State coach Thad Matta was real eager for his fourth-ranked Buckeyes to take the court aboard the USS Yorktown. Even though the game was called off, he’s certain his players learned plenty.
The season-opening showcase between the Buckeyes and Marquette on the decommissioned vessel was canceled Friday night when officials, coaches and administrators believed continuing condensation made the makeshift court too dangerous to play.
Still, Matta said he believed the time his team spent listening to current and former military members — eight of them visited with Buckeyes players and coaches Thursday night, he said — was worth the long, complex trip.
“Yeah, we didn’t get to play,” Matta said in the carrier’s theater. “But the purpose was served.”
Earlier, seventh-ranked Notre Dame defeated No. 19 Ohio State 57-51 in the first women’s game played outdoors on a carrier. There were challenges in that one, too — the setting sun for the late afternoon start had both sides squinting to see — but the court was dry and safe. That wasn’t the case once the sun went down.
Ohio State guard Aaron Craft said he knew things would be tricky when he saw a couple of Marquette’s players “slide from half-court to the 3-point line.”
Referee John Cahill talked with both coaches and athletic directors about conditions. All agreed to give the court more time to dry in the cooling atmosphere. After about a half-hour delay, Cahill restarted pregame warmups as volunteers and workers did what they could to soak up the moisture. Nothing worked and the game was called off.
“All were apprehensive about playing the game,” Cahill said. “You could feel the wet spots on the floor. Our primary concern is with the student-athlete. The last thing we want is any kid who’s got a future in the game of basketball to be injured as a result of this.”
Once the game was canceled, Marquette and Ohio State players returned to the court to sign autographs, pose for pictures and greet the fans.
“It was certainly disappointing,” said Gregory Hoffman, a 1971 Ohio State graduate who lives in Mount Pleasant. “You don’t want athletes to hurt themselves. It’s Charleston and there’s condensation at night.”
Coaches and ADs from both schools said they would continue talking about ways to play again, although it’s not likely this season. Ohio State opens its home season on Sunday against Albany while Marquette has a home game the same day with Colgate.
The game was part of the second Carrier Classic, the first a magnificent spectacle between North Carolina and Michigan State attended by President Barack Obama.
The contest raises money for several groups that help troops and veterans. It was a showcase for Veterans Day weekend.
Most of the 4,000 seats at the makeshift arena were full, many of them servicemen and women who received donated tickets. Ohio State’s players put on a dunk contest, guard Aaron Craft skying high for a jam as spectators snapped pictures on their cellphones.
The contest was supposed to be one of the marquee events of college basketball’s opening weekend. Ohio State reached the Final Four last season while Marquette advanced to the NCAA’s round of 16 before losing to Florida.
Marquette coach Buzz Williams came to the court in Army-style combat boots and both sides wore uniforms to honor the military and those who’ve served their country.
“It is disappointing,” Williams said. “But the health of our players is monumental.”
Morale Entertainment’s Michael Whalen said the Notre Dame women’s practice on Thursday morning was moved to warmer afternoon conditions because of condensation. But Thursday night, organizers found little wrong with the court and thought things would be fine.
Whalen wasn’t sure what the cancellation might mean for the future of the Carrier Classic, or the potential of holding another game here on the Yorktown.
“We were trying to do something good,” Whalen said. “This time, it didn’t work out.”
The coaches saw plenty of positives even with the cancellation. Ohio State star Craft and his sister, Cait, who plays for the Buckeyes women’s team, have an older brother Brandon returning from serving in Afghanistan in about a week. Matta remembered Craft telling him, “It doesn’t get better than this.”
Williams of Marquette said the lost game wouldn’t change his mind if asked to play on a carrier again.
“We’ll play anywhere, anytime in this type of event for this type of purpose,” he said.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.