PNC Arena was a little more than half-full on Saturday afternoon, but for a 10-plus minute stretch, the building sounded empty, as 13,842 people held their breath.
With just over 13 minutes remaining in the first half, NC State point guard Markell Johnson jumped up to try to corral a loose ball near midcourt. He came down awkwardly and limped to the State bench for medical attention.
Johnson would return to the game , and his injury almost immediately became an afterthought.
Visiting South Carolina State got off the bench to huddle up while State’s medical staff examined Johnson. With most of the eyes in the building focused on State’s sophomore point guard, a far more serious situation was developing in the South Carolina State huddle.
Senior guard Tyvoris Solomon, who had started the game and left at the 16:02 mark, collapsed to the floor just before the injury time out. According to reports, his heart had stopped.
As referee Les Jones wiped away tears, the arena P.A. system summoned for the doctor to report to the visiting bench.
“My head coach dropped to his knees and started praying,” said South Carolina State associate coach Rio Pitt. “Everyone else, for the most part, followed suit.”
NC State players gathered in a circle for a group prayer.
“To be honest, all we could do was pray,” said NC State forward Omer Yurtseven. “At first nobody could believe it. Then we just kind of stood around. Then we saw people crying. It was emotional.”
S.C. State forward Ian Kinard hugged head coach Murray Garvin, sobbing, and wails could be heard from the visiting team’s family section. As a deathly silence descended on the arena, a group of fans in the lower level could be heard clearly, reciting the Lord’s Prayer.
Both teams’ trainers and arena E.M.T staff worked to revive Solomon, giving him chest compressions for several minutes. Eventually, they were able to revive him, and he was rushed to an area hospital, where he was reported to be awake, alert and in stable condition.
The South Carolina State players followed the stretcher off the court, while the Wolfpack retreated to their own locker room.
“Before we actually went out (of the floor area), they asked us if we wanted to play,” said Pitts. “Coach (Garvin) said it was up to the players. We walked into the locker room and said, ‘What do you guys want to do. It’s up to you guys if you want to continue playing the game.’”
The response was immediate and overwhelming.
“They said we’d do what Ty would do, and Ty would want us to go out there and play,” Pitts said. “It was an absolutely unanimous response. Coaching staff and administration said it was up to them, and when we asked, not one person raised their hand to say they didn’t want to play.”
Garvin accompanied Solomon to the hospital, and Pitts took over head coaching duties in his absence. The Wolfpack finished off a 32-point win, but no one seemed particularly interested in the result on either side.
“It’s a sport,” said Pitts. “It’s entertainment. At the end of the day, friends and family always come first. It puts things in perspective for me.”
The feelings were similar in the home locker room.
“It took me like 10 minutes to get my head back into the game,” Yurtseven said. “The second I heard about it, I just wanted to call my family in Turkey, to be honest. It kind of gets you.”
“It was tough,” Wolfpack coach Kevin Keatts agreed. “It puts everything into perspective. At that moment, basketball is not important. Our guys were really bothered, because, if you look at it, that could’ve been one of their teammates.”
State guards Markell Johnson and Braxton Beverly both had career highs in assists in the game. Torin Dorn had a double-double. Shaun Kirk had a career high in points. No one, however, questioned who the true heroes of a dramatic afternoon at PNC were.
“We’re very thankful that our EMTs did a great job,” Keatts said. “Our doctors, our trainers, South Carolina State’s trainers all did a great job.”
“You thank God first,” Pitts said, before crediting the team of first responders. “You’re prepared for the situation, but you don’t ever actually expect it to happen. It’s not like you said, ‘Hey, let’s practice this situation.’”
Pitts was the only member of the visiting team who met with the media. Players were shuttled out another exit to where the bus was waiting.
“They just want to go see him,” Pitts said.