Hundreds of man hours were spent turning the USS Bataan into a basketball arena.
Officially, Friday’s game between Florida and Georgetown was never played.
The No. 10 Gators led 27-23 at half before condensation built up on the wooden court at the Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville.
However, it wasn’t all for naught, and it didn’t stop the men and women who serve our country from enjoying themselves during the game.
USS Bataan senior chief Junior Ashwood is from Detroit, so he wasn’t a fan of either team. The 43-year-old sat with his wife of four years, Phyllis, and his entire deck department behind them.
The group whooped and hollered as hard as anyone at the game.
“Since we were sitting in Gator Country, we figured we would be Gator fans for the night,” said Ashwood, who has served in the Navy for 24 years. “This is something that is once-in-a-lifetime. You’re not going to see this.”
For the sailors, it wasn’t about the game.
It was getting away from the daily grind that comes with keeping America safe.
“To be out here and be a part of this is amazing. All of our sailors were out here and we enjoyed the game. I mean completely enjoyed ourselves, for the first half.
“You see most of the (TV) cutaways, that was us enjoying the game.”
“Acting a fool,” Ashwood’s wife chimed in with a laugh.
The trouble on the court began late in the first half when play had to be halted as workers with towels vigorously tried to dry several slick spots on the Georgetown end of the floor.
During halftime, dozens of workers crawled the floor on all fours, wiping white towels everywhere within reach as quickly as they could. When players came out, staffers from both teams joined in.
Florida coach Billy Donovan and Georgetown coach John Thompson III, decked out in light-brown fatigue pants, began noticing the court had switched from sticky to slippery during intermission.
Both coaches tried to get traction repeatedly with their military boots to no avail.
“Win or loss, I have no idea,” Donovan said. “I’ve never even heard of a game being called.”
Both coaches addressed to crowd after it was officially called at 10:38 p.m. Both echoed each other’s sentiments, apologizing to the crowd while reiterating how neither wanted to risk injury for the non-conference contest.
By that time, the condensation became even more visible, creating a shiny surface when eyeing it courtside.
“There were going to be patches (of slickness),” Donovan said. “What happens when someone comes across one of them?”
Will Yegeute started at forward for the Gators and led the team with eight points and four rebounds. He was 4 of 5 shooting from the floor and also had a blocked shot and steal. Erik Murphy was 2 of 4 from the floor and finished with seven points and three rebounds.
Florida used a mixture of man and zone defense effectively to limit the Hoyas to 35.7 percent shooting. The Gators also won the rebound battle 16-14, but turned the ball over eight times to Georgetown’s six, which allowed the Hoyas to outscore the Gators 11-4 on turnovers.
The lead changed four times before Florida began pulling away midway through the first half. The Gators led by as many as five points twice, the first time on a running left-hander down the left side of the lane by Yegeute with 8:36 remaining and the second when Murphy drained a three-pointer from the top of the key.
There was 7:25 remaining in the first half when Murphy canned the jumper, but it turned out that was all that remained in regulation.
Oh well, said the sailors.
For them, it wasn’t about the game.
Ashwood said the USS Bataan pulled into Mayport a week ago. The crew — the deck department is completely “good to go” on all of its certifications, by the way — and other workers spent three and a half days constructing the court, resulting in just 20 minutes of play.
As Ashwood said, that 20 minutes still will last a lifetime.
“We had a great time during the game,” Ashwood said. “Of course, it’s disappointing that the second half didn’t happen, but we definitely enjoyed ourselves for the first half.”