Virginia Tech's Darius Maddox (13) right, drives past Maine's LeChaun DuHart (13) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Blacksburg, Va., on Nov. 9, 2021. Credit: Matt Gentry / The Roanoke Times via AP

The Husson University men’s basketball team was due to fly to southern California on Sunday to prepare for back-to-back games on the West Coast later this week.

Instead the Eagles are continuing their holiday break at home, the trip a casualty of COVID-19’s renewed vigor.

“We had to make a tough decision with the big picture in mind,” Husson men’s basketball head coach Warren Caruso said of the canceled road trip. “We are disappointed as our student-athletes were looking forward to the trip, but the season is more important than a trip and we want to stay as healthy as possible. Our first priority is the health of our student-athletes.”

Both Husson and the University of Maine men’s basketball team had this week’s schedule  revised due to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases around the country that already altered the  NFL, NHL and NBA landscapes, as well as prompting the cancellation or postponement of college football bowl games and other college basketball contests.

UMaine’s game against Rutgers at Piscataway, New Jersey, was pushed back from Wednesday to Thursday while Husson’s two-game trip to Greater Los Angeles was canceled.

The Husson men’s basketball team was scheduled to depart for the West Coast on Sunday morning and practice that evening in anticipation of games against Pomona-Pitzer College of Claremont, California, on Thursday and at Occidental College in Los Angeles on Friday.

But the rise and spread of the omicron variant prompted a change in plans.

“If you look at the numbers and the risk, the percentages of the 20-plus in the travel party making the trip to California, playing two games and doing some of the things we had scheduled to do and then returning and getting back on [Jan. 3] and not having a positive test seemed to be really low,” Caruso said.

“We looked at the risk of putting the rest of the season in jeopardy versus the reward of a trip to California, so to speak. There also was the element that we could have got there and not been able to play the games for some reason such as their testing or our testing in travel. With the amount of risk that was there and the investment in the trip it didn’t seem prudent to make the trip.”

Husson, which played its most recent game on Dec. 13, now is idle until resuming North Atlantic Conference play on Jan. 7 at SUNY Canton in a matchup of teams predicted to win their respective divisions in the NAC preseason coaches poll.

The Eagles are slated to return to campus on Thursday to resume practices.

Husson is off to a 4-5 start this season, with three of the losses by two points or less and a fourth setback by nine points in what had been a one-possession game entering the final minute.

“We feel good about our preparation,” Caruso said. “We’re certainly disappointed that we don’t have a trip to California to add two more quality games before we start [conference play] and for a trip that always brings us closer together, but now we’ll get back to practice and get ready for NAC play.”

The UMaine-Rutgers game, which was rescheduled by the Rutgers Athletics Department, now is set for a 1 p.m. opening tipoff Thursday and will be televised by the Big Ten Network.

The new date for the UMaine game is one of multiple scheduling changes made by Rutgers related to COVID-19 protocols. The Scarlet Knights canceled a scheduled Dec. 18 home game against Rider and also moved a Dec. 23 home game with Central Connecticut State to Jan. 1.

Rutgers played its most recent game on Dec. 12, meaning the Scarlet Knights will have an 18-day layoff before facing UMaine.

Rutgers is 5-5 this season but the victories include a last-second 70-68 upset of Purdue — at the time the No. 1 team in the nation — at home on Dec. 9.

UMaine, 3-7 overall, is still in search of its first Division I victory of the season with its wins to date over UMaine-Farmington, UMaine-Fort Kent and the University of New England of Biddeford.

The Black Bears are coming off a 49-47 loss to Merrimack on Dec. 21 at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.

The UMaine-Rutgers game will remain the first game for a two-stop New Jersey road trip for the Black Bears, who were already scheduled to visit Newark on Sunday for their America East opener at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...