It was just a few days after Lander had hosted the Peach Belt Conference basketball tournament when word came down.
There would be no madness this March. COVID-19 put an end to NCAA spring athletics in an announcement that sent shockwaves across the country.
The virus also put an end to Brunswick native Elijah Alston’s college career — a cruel twist of fate for the biology major with a minor in chemistry — before he and his teammates got the opportunity to compete in the first round of the Division II Tournament.
“As a student athlete, I missed out on the opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament,” Alston said. “This was the first time in my college career that I made it to the NCAA tournament with any team. That itself is a major loss, and so is not interacting with my friends and professors.”
A member of Brunswick High’s 2014-15 state championship team, Alston originally committed to Piedmont College, where he spent two seasons playing for the Lions.
Alston was thrown directly into the fire at Piedmont, appearing in 25 games his first year and playing 363 minutes — the seventh-most on the team. As a freshman, Alston averaged 5.2 points and 3.5 rebounds in 14.5 minutes per game, going for a season-high of 12 points on three different occasions.
Alston assumed a starting spot at Piedmont his sophomore year, and he shined in a larger role, upping his scoring average to 12.9 points, the second-most on the team, on 44 percent shooting from the field and 40 percent from 3 while pulling down 9.2 boards per game. His best performance at Piedmont saw him score 25 points on 9-of-16 shooting and grab 10 rebounds against Covenant.
Ahead of the ensuing season, Alston transferred to Lander and started in all 29 games for his new team, averaging 10.8 points and a team-high 7.4 rebounds per game — his high watermark coming in a 21-point, six-rebound performance in a win over North Georgia.
Everything was clicking for Lander this past season as the team raced out to a 23-8 record with Alston supplying 10.9 points and 5.9 rebounds per contest.
In what turned out to be the final game of Alston’s collegiate career, he scored all 12 of his points after halftime to help Lander erase a 16-point second-half deficit against Columbus State and capture the PBC Tournament championship.
Slated to play Augusta in the first round of the NCAA Division II Tournament six days later, Lander wouldn’t take the court again in the 2019-20 season.
Alston will also miss out on the opportunity to walk in Lander’s commencement ceremony, which was originally scheduled for today.
“This impacts me a great deal because I will have been the first child of my parents to graduate and walk across the stage, and the first member of my immediate family to do so with two degrees,” Alston said.
On the bright side, the basketball season’s cancellation provided Alston ample time to focus on his studies down the home stretch of the school year.
While Alston planned to transition into medical school, the postponement of MCAT testing has held up the process until the Association of American Medical Colleges has worked out a solution.
Instead, Alson will take a gap year, working to save money for his future enrollment.