Wofford took care of business on Tuesday morning, picking up a win over one of the best mid-major programs in the country before the majority of the country had made it in to work.
The Terriers knocked off Iona 86-73 in the 7:00 a.m. game of the Tip-Off Marathon, coming from behind in the second half to beat the Gaels despite the fact that they were ending one of the most grueling six-day stretches any team will have to deal with this season.
The ordeal actually started in late September.
That’s when the Wofford staff got an email saying that the flight they had booked out of the Greensville-Spartanburg, the one that was supposed to leave at 8:45 a.m. ET, had been cancelled. The first leg of Wofford’s trip out to Palo Alto, California, where the Terriers squared off with Stanford at 9:00 p.m. PT on Friday night, would be departing at 6:20 a.m. ET on Thursday morning.
To catch the flight, Wofford had a 3:45 a.m. wake-up, departing from campus at 4:30 a.m. They touched in Chicago for their layover a few hours later, but the second leg of their flight hadn’t been changed. “An hour-and-a-half layover turned into a four-and-a-half hour layover,” assistant coach Dustin Kerns told NBCSports.com.
By the time the team landed in California, it was 2:30 p.m. PT, 11 hours after the team had departed on their first flight and 14 hours after they woke up on Thursday morning. From there, the Terriers got on a bus and went straight to Maples Pavilion, finally being allowed into the building at 4:15 p.m. for a 4:30 p.m. practice.
After a full practice, a trip to the hotel to check-in and shower up, and a team dinner, it was 10:00 p.m. PT, or 1:00 a.m. ET. That’s 22 hours after they had woken up, or what one might call a long freakin’ day.
Shootaround was at 10:15 a.m. PT on Friday morning, meaning that the Terriers were up at 8:45 a.m. despite the fact that they wouldn’t be playing until 9:00 p.m. PT, or what would feel like midnight for a group of college kids from South Carolina. Playing the waiting game, sitting around and doing nothing while you kill time, is just as bad, if not worse, than playing at 7:00 a.m.
“You get tired doing nothing,” Kerns said.
On Saturday, the Terriers had another cross country travel day, finally arriving back on campus at 12:45 a.m. ET on Sunday morning. After initially planning on practicing early on Sunday and Monday mornings, trying to acclimate their players to an early tip, the staff decided their players had been through enough. They would practice that afternoon at 4:30 p.m. and on Monday afternoon at 2:30 p.m., and on Tuesday, “just get up and play the game,” Kerns said.
After a big team meal at Olive Garden, Wofford held their shootaround — a walkthrough and film session going over the scout on Iona — on Monday night before taking the team to a hotel just off of campus. (Ironically enough, it was the same hotel Iona was staying in.) It was lights out at 9:45 p.m. with a 4:45 a.m. wake-up call, and since the hotel was less than a mile from campus, the Terriers were at their arena by 5:00 a.m.
There would be no team meal before the game, but the staff forced the players to scarf down granola bars, bananas, bagels, gatorade and plenty of water while they did their usual pregame routine — getting changed, getting taped, getting stim, hitting the whirlpool. By the time the game started, it was as if the game was being played at a normal time, although an external factor, Kerns said, helped play a role.
The Wofford arena has windows near the ceiling that allow in light during the day. The athletics staff hung up black curtains over those windows, eliminating the natural light in the gym and giving the arena the feel of a night game.
“Once the game ended, the guys said it felt like a night game,” Kerns said.
But it wasn’t. It was a 7:00 a.m. tip on a Tuesday, meaning that the game ended just after 9:00 a.m.; the team’s obligations weren’t over yet.
“We made them go to class,” Kerns said. “We had guys make it to their 9:30 a.m. classes.”