As I planned my trip to Brooklyn for the 2019 Atlantic 10 basketball tournament, I had to consider realistic expectations for St. Louis University and the most likely outcomes that would help avoid a complete alteration of travel plans.
I didn’t want to get caught paying for hotel nights I wouldn’t use or have to pay a massive fee to change a flight if it could be avoided. I’m good to the company that way.
I decided to arrive on Wednesday night and schedule my return flight for Saturday, which would mean the Billikens would have won their first game against Richmond on Thursday and lost the following day against Dayton. Leaving on Saturday also left some wiggle room for the possibility of SLU reaching a game that afternoon.
Based on how the regular season had played out — SLU was the No. 6 seed — I figured I would definitely be back Sunday in time to take my daughter to a scheduled college visit early Monday morning.
The conference tournament is always one of the highlights of the season and an extended stay is always preferable to enjoy the buildup of postseason basketball. This turned out to be my sportswriting highlight of the decade.
When the tournament schedule was announced, SLU’s path to the championship appeared difficult. As it turned out, the Billikens would have to win four consecutive games against opponents who had won the previous meetings between the teams. Who does that?
The Billikens struggled in their first game against Richmond but pulled out the victory in the closing minutes to earn a meeting with Dayton. The next day they played extremely well and beat the Flyers, who were the No. 3 seed. On Saturday they ran away and routed No. 2 seed Davidson.
Out of clean clothes, I stopped at a mall across from Barclays Center and bought a shirt to wear for the championship game. I hadn’t learned from a previous mistake when I had to do the same thing when covering Illinois and the Illini surprisingly reached the Big Ten tournament championship. I then spilled a soda on the shirt I was wearing as I left the mall.
I scrambled to extend my hotel another night and find a flight that would allow me to get out of LaGuardia on Sunday night but give me enough time to cover the championship game and complete a story before boarding the plane. Staying until Monday morning would mean canceling my daughter’s college visit.
SLU rallied from a huge first-half deficit to win the game against St. Bonaventure. After the Billikens survived a potential game-winning shot by the Bonnies at the buzzer, the players piled on top of each other on the court directly in front of me. Then came coach Travis Ford, diving head first into the mass of humanity.
I wandered around the court for about 30 minutes, doing interviews, taking photos and capturing video as players celebrated, visited with family and fans and cut down the net. Several let down their guards and talked in general terms about some of the inner turmoil the team overcame to reach that point.
It was almost 3 p.m. before the postgame press conference started. My flight was around 7:30. I transcribed interviews and wrote until 5 p.m. before calling for a ride to the airport. I finished writing my story in the car.
I was waiting in the security line at the airport when the NCAA Tournament selection show started and missed the announcement of SLU’s first-round matchup. I got settled at my gate in time to figure out the spotty airport wireless internet, transmit the story to the Post-Dispatch and board the flight.
I got home around 10, booked travel to San Jose for SLU’s game against Virginia Tech and got up at 6 a.m. to take my daughter to her college tour.