NASHVILLE — Like fellow Tennessee senior Lamonte Turner before him, Jordan Bowden's time on the basketball court as a Volunteer came to an unceremonious end before it should have.
For Turner, the sudden stop was caused by the agonizing pain of having thoracic outlet syndrome, which prevented him from being able to shoot a basketball effectively because he was unable to lift his arms properly. He at least had a chance to say goodbye on his own terms, revealing after a Dec. 21 home game against Jacksonville State that he would have season-ending surgery.
Bowden's collegiate career, which ended Thursday in the wake of the Southeastern Conference canceling its league tournament due to concerns about the spread of the novel coronavirus, also had a hollow conclusion. One of the top shooters in program history, the 6-foot-5, 193-pound guard from Knoxville had struggled in the wake of Turner leaving, because his classmate was the one person who seemed to always know when and where to get him the ball.
No player assisted on more of Bowden's baskets this season than Turner, who did so 26 times through 11 games, and after Turner's exit, Bowden never built the same type of chemistry with any other teammate.
Bowden shot 41% this season with Turner playing point guard and 34% without him. Bowden made 37% of his 3-pointers (22-of-59) in 11 games with Turner and 24% without him.
His scoring averages didn't dip too much, but Bowden had to become more aggressive and find ways to create his own offense. His per-game average for assists went up to 3.0 in the final 20 games of the season, but he was never able to fully find the same shooting rhythm he had early in the season.
"For me to leave it all on him, I know it was heavy," Turner said of Bowden recently. "I know it was tough for him to probably get in the rhythm and things like that because you go from, you know, two really good senior experienced guards to everybody just focusing on you.
"The shots aren't open anymore; they're closing out on him quick and you're the focal point. I don't think Bowden's ever been the focal point, you know what I mean? So to have that, it was different, it was a change for him. So I was just telling him, 'You have to keep going. You have to keep fighting through it.'"
Bowden leaves Tennessee with 1,365 points, which ranks 24th all-time in program history. His 186 career 3s are seventh all-time, and he leaves with 92 career wins and a pair of NCAA tournament appearances.
Thursday afternoon in a hallway leading to the court at Bridgestone Arena, a blue sign with the 14-team tournament's bracket sat lonely on a wall, unchanged since Wednesday night's two first-round games. It would not be updated again.
Walking into the arena, the clock above the rims read 38 minutes, seven seconds, presumably the time before the eighth-seeded Vols' second-round game against ninth-seeded Alabama was supposed to start. That 1 p.m. EDT tipoff never came.
It all seemed to match the mood of the unexpected endings for Bowden and Turner, two of the last remaining pieces of consecutive years of feel-good basketball for the Vols. They were two players with dreams of leading the program back into the NCAA tournament, a mission that could not have been fulfilled even if Turner was healthy or Bowden more efficient once the powers that be called off the 68-team event.
While it probably would have taken the Vols winning the SEC title and the league's automatic bid to make the NCAA field, Bowden would have most likely had a chance to compete in a postseason tournament beyond the SEC's regardless.
Maybe Tennessee, a team that was competitive and had opportunities in most every game, could have figured out a way to beat Alabama for a second time. That would have yielded a third opportunity against top-seeded Kentucky, and the Vols split that series in the regular season. Mississippi State or Florida after that? Tennessee lost to the Bulldogs but beat Florida, and that may have led to a path to Sunday's final, where the Vols might have faced Auburn in a rematch of last season's title game or LSU.
Four games in four days? Auburn did it just last year. Why not Tennessee?
At worst the Vols were looking at a chance to participate in the National Invitation Tournament, which could have meant another game (or more) at Thompson-Boling Arena.
All of those possibilities evaporated Thursday.
Next season a promising crop of players will be on campus in Knoxville, with the Vols' 2020 recruiting class fourth in the country in 247Sports.com's composite rankings. All-conference forward John Fulkerson and SEC defensive player of the year Yves Pons will be back as seniors, presumably even better. A sophomore class led by Josiah-Jordan James and Santiago Vescovi should be a year wiser.
What could be in 2020-21? Who knows. There will be plenty of time to figure that out.
What was certain on Thursday was that a Tennessee basketball player who deserved a better ending than he received didn't get that chance. Again.