Shawn Roundtree, Larry Austin excited for another chance to play as Chippewas
There were 6.8 seconds left, the Central Michigan men's basketball team was down four points in the Mid-American Conference Tournament semifinal.
Senior guard Larry Austin Jr. sent an inbound pass to junior forward David DiLeo just in front of the half court line. DiLeo caught the ball and handed it back off to Austin as he rushed down the floor. Austin shouted "let's go" twice and DiLeo came back to the top of the key and fired away a triple.
It missed and the buzzer sounded. The No. 1-seeded Bulls defeated the No. 5 Chippewas, 85-81.
Buffalo's players stormed off the bench to greet their teammates, some jumping through the air to bump backs and celebrate. The large following of fans who traveled from Buffalo, New York to Cleveland, Ohio were clapping and cheering louder than any crowd seen in the tournament to that point. The school they cheered for was going back to the MAC Tournament title game.
And then there was Shawn Roundtree Jr.
Lost in the shuffle of everything happening on the floor, he wandered slowly to the corner of the court opposite of his bench, alone. His team was starting to lineup and give handshakes to the Bulls. Roundtree slowly made his way to the back of that line, tugging on his maroon jersey he had just untucked. Eyes pointed downward towards his white sneakers.
Uncertainty began to fill his mind.
There was no guarantee that the Chippewas (23-11) would see another contest in 2018-19. If they didn't, it would be the last time Roundtree touched a court in a college basketball game.
In the following days, Roundtree said he didn't know what to do with himself.
"I was sick, man," Roundtree said. "I was sick."
The senior guard drove around and listened to music. It's all he wanted to do. He tried to block out thoughts while waiting for news if the Chippewas would compete in a postseason tournament. Saturday passed, nothing still. Roundtree still didn't want to think about it being over.
"Honestly, I was just miserable, like miserable," he said.
Then, the announcement broke on the evening of March 17. The Chippewas were heading to the 2019 Roman College Basketball Invitational to take on DePaul at 8 p.m. on March 20 at McGrath-Phillips Arena.
On March 19, Roundtree got to wake up and prepare himself for another morning of practice with the team he will cherish forever. He was happy to see another one.
His fellow senior guard Austin couldn't agree more.
"We get to play the game we love again and practice with our brothers," Austin said. "Having another to go out there and play with (my team), man, it's just a great feeling."
Regardless, the duo that has averaged 34 points per game this season in the backcourt will see at least one more game. Austin has set the single-season records for assists (200) and steals (76) while Roundtree was the 34th Chippewa to reach 1,000 career points.
Both players transferred in but have made large impacts on the program in a short period of time.
However, neither is going to this tournament to just play in another game — they want to leave another mark by taking home hardware.
"The great thing about this team is we love each other," Roundtree said. "We're brothers and your brother always has your back. When it comes down to playing hard, it's just one guy playing for the next and no one playing for themselves. I think that describes our team.
"We have a main focus and that's to win something to show for our season."
In order to do that, the Chippewas will have to do something no MAC team has done since the CBI started in 2008 — make it to the title game. In 2016, Ohio made it to the semifinals before being knocked out as the furthest a MAC school has gone.
Austin said he has never played in a tournament like this one but following the heartbreaking loss to the Bulls, the 6-foot-2, 183-pound guard is just ready to take the floor.
"Our season didn't end and we're in the postseason now which is a great feeling," Austin said. "We felt like we played well against Buffalo but now we get another chance to play with our brothers."
Head coach Keno Davis said while everyone wants to make the NCAA Tournament, it's always great for the seniors to get one more go.
"Now as competitors, they get to see how long they can make it last," Davis said of Roundtree and Austin. "Those guys bring it in practice each and every day and it's even more enjoyable for them to be on the court in game situations."
If the Chippewas were to make it past DePaul, they would make it to the quarterfinal round on March 25 against either Longwood University or Southern Miss.
As Davis walked away from reporters and thanked them per usual, he turned back and gave a glance.
"Hopefully I'll be talking to you again," Davis said with a smile.
It's evident Austin and Roundtree would agree.