Daugherty: Please, don't let this joy be taken away from us again

·4 min read
Xavier Musketeers guard Dwon Odom (11) drives to the basket against Marquette Golden Eagles forward Olivier-Maxence Prosper (12) in the first half of the NCAA Big East Conference game between the Xavier Musketeers and the Marquette Golden Eagles at the Cintas Center in Cincinnati on Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021. Xavier led 38-36 at halftime.
Xavier Musketeers guard Dwon Odom (11) drives to the basket against Marquette Golden Eagles forward Olivier-Maxence Prosper (12) in the first half of the NCAA Big East Conference game between the Xavier Musketeers and the Marquette Golden Eagles at the Cintas Center in Cincinnati on Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021. Xavier led 38-36 at halftime.

Dwon Odom’s authentic joy is a reason we go to basketball games. Watching Odom play for Xavier Saturday at a packed Cintas Center was to be reminded why sports matter so much to us, and how we are changed when they’re taken away.

Xavier beat Marquette by a closer-than 80-71 margin mainly because the 6-foot-2 sophomore point guard imposed his will on the Golden Eagles. His first-half exuberance gave Xavier the lead. His second-half burst helped the Musketeers maintain it. With 1:11 left in the game, Odom made two clutch free throws. With 29 ticks to go, his drive-and-dish to Nate Johnson in the corner assisted Johnson’s three-point killshot.

Odom had 19 points and three steals in 21 minutes, all accomplished with a child-like zeal that kept Xavier fans on their feet and yelling.

“Just phenomenal,’’ Marquette coach Shaka Smart said of Odom. “The difference-maker.’’

More: DeJulius, Davenport lead Bearcats past Div. II Ashland 71-57 in COVID-19 replacement game

Meantime just down the road at Fifth Third Arena, UC played Division II Ashland, a last-minute fill-in for the Bearcats original opponent, Texas Southern, where COVID-19 issues have temporarily shut down the basketball team. The same thing happened all over the country in the past few days, from UCLA to Ohio State to Seton Hall. The country is polluted with the virus again. Sports is feeling it. It’s last winter all over again.

Not again. That’s what we’re saying now. That’s where we are. It is a shout of defiance – we will not go back to last winter. And it is an ask for mercy. Please don’t make us go back there again.

Xavier Musketeers guard Nate Johnson (10) reacts with the crowd after sinking a three-pointer in the second half of the NCAA Big East Conference game between the Xavier Musketeers and the Marquette Golden Eagles at the Cintas Center in Cincinnati on Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021. Xavier began its conference schedule with an 80-71 win over Marquette.
Xavier Musketeers guard Nate Johnson (10) reacts with the crowd after sinking a three-pointer in the second half of the NCAA Big East Conference game between the Xavier Musketeers and the Marquette Golden Eagles at the Cintas Center in Cincinnati on Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021. Xavier began its conference schedule with an 80-71 win over Marquette.

For Xavier, it’s the notion that what is becoming a very good season could be diminished any day. The fans could be taken away, games could be missed, the impressive rhythm and flow now being established could die on the vine. Again. Please not again.

More: Xavier's entire men's basketball team is vaccinated: Here's what that means for this season

This second wave of viral knockouts is even more discouraging than the first wave, because last winter we experienced how much we missed the fans in the stands. Their return this year made their absence last winter even more apparent. And now we live with the cruel dread of having that rug pulled out from under us again. Please not again.

Nothing in sports is more intimate than a gym full of raucous basketball fans, and no venue in Cincinnati is more raucous than Cintas Center. There is loud and there is Xavier-leading-the-Shootout-at-Cintas deafening. (And of course, there is booing. No fans boo like XU fans, either.)

Fans in the stands remind us we’re alive and what a happy option that is. Only now, the NFL has pushed back three of this weekend’s games. The NBA and NHL are doing the same thing. On Saturday, Xavier’s media relations folks asked the media to wear masks inside Cintas for the first time this year. It’s happening again, same way it happened last winter. Again. Please, not again.

What can we do?

If you’ve been vaccinated and booster-ed, maybe you feel cheated. You played by the rules, you sacrificed and maybe you’re wondering what difference it made. That’s not me, but I understand it. Sports are supposed to teach us fair play. There’s nothing fair about COVID-19.

More: Paul Daugherty: It's shocking how much better Xavier is than Cincinnati

A New York Times columnist urged that sports take a break until sometime early next year. “How do we balance our need for entertaining sports with a public health crisis the sports world has yet to come to grips with?’’ Kurt Streeter asked, before concluding, “It’s time to press pause on games, matches and meets. Come back in February, or later.’’

If that’s the case -- if the current onslaught of delta-meets-Omicron is as unbeatable as the ’72 Miami Dolphins – then it’s best to live by the advice offered postgame Saturday by Dwon Odom. Odom contracted the virus last season. He says he was practically asymptomatic, but the lessons were not lost on him.

“With COVID, you just don’t know,’’ Odom said. “You could be shut down all over again. Just take it one day at a time, that’s all you can do. And treasure those days.’’

Yes, treasure those days. Like Saturday at Cintas Center, where Dwon Odom held court. Hold the days and keep them and try to maintain your gratitude. There are worse things than no fans in the stands at games, or no games at all. It’s just that we’ve been there, done that. And here’s the virus back on our doorstep, nine toes across the threshold. Again. Please not again.

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Paul Daugherty on Xavier basketball victory over Marquette

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting