NASHVILLE — Brandon Huntley-Hatfield was about to walk out of the tunnel at Bridgestone Arena.
A Tennessee basketball staff member told the freshman forward not to come out to the court.
The men’s basketball game between Tennessee and Memphis was canceled nearly an hour before Saturday’s tipoff due to COVID-19 issues within the Tigers program, bringing an unexpected end to a rivalry with an uncertain future. Vols coach Rick Barnes indicated the game would not be made up this season based on Tennessee’s schedule, which has no open dates. He said UT will evaluate making the game up in the future.
UT athletics director Danny White was contacted by Memphis on Saturday morning as he prepared to board a plane to fly to Nashville. White called deputy athletics director Mónica Lebrón, who was sitting near Barnes on the team bus. The Vols had recently boarded the bus to go from the Grand Hyatt to head to Bridgestone Arena.
At that time, it was a possibility the game would be canceled. It became official around 9:25 p.m. CT.
For Tennessee, it brought memories of March, 12, 2020, when the pandemic halted the sports world as the Vols waited to play Alabama in the SEC Tournament in Nashville.
“A little deja vu back in here,” Vols forward John Fulkerson said as he stretched next to the scorer’s table.
Tennessee held a scrimmage instead, a decision Barnes announced to Bridgestone Arena. Fans were invited to move to the lower level to watch the Vols scrimmage.
Santiago Vescovi’s parents and sister sat in the second row watching after flying from Uruguay to Nashville to spend three weeks.
Guard Josiah-Jordan James looked at fan in a Memphis sweatshirt as he warmed up.
“You’ve got the wrong jacket on,” James said.
“You can’t be in here right now,” added guard Kennedy Chandler, a Memphis native who likely missed his lone opportunity to play his hometown school.
A handful of fans had arrived at the arena when Bridgestone Arena public-address announcer Trennie Williams declared the game was off. Tennessee players walked onto the court as the UT band played “Rocky Top” for the sparse crowd. A fan in the upper deck screamed “We want Drew Pember!” in reference to the former Tennessee forward who attempted an ambitious dunk against Memphis in 2019.
This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Tennessee-Memphis men’s basketball game canceled due to COVID-19