By John Goralski
Three games in 24 hours—One was to the South and two were to the North. Lincoln College had their hands full last weekend as the regular season came to an end. They had no time to worry about the shakeup in the NJCAA division III rankings.
Gateway College dropped out of the top spot when ineligibility issues forced them to forfeit some games down the stretch. Teams jockeyed for position, but the Wildcats just focused on the hardcourt.
A loss was followed by two wins, including a successful defense of a regional tournament title. Their 12-15 record ties the best mark in program history, and their three-point sharpshooter continues to climb the nation’s ranks for precision.
When the dust settled, Lincoln found themselves in the third and final postseason slot. For the second year in a row, the Wildcats are tournament bound.
“It’s amazing. This really shows how far we’ve come,” said Wilcat coach John Wasiewlewski. “We’re getting looked at as one of those middle teams. We’re not yet at the Roxbury level or with the Mass Bays or an eligible Gateway team, but we’re no longer the doormat. We’re a competitive team, and it’s going to be a good game when you play us.”
On Wednesday, they’ll open up in Groton against division rival UConn-Avery Point. The Huskies won the first game. The Wildcats won the second. It’s anybody’s game.
“We’ve just got to keep the intensity up,” said the coach. “We have enough offense. We can definitely score points. It’s going to come down to defense, but we’ve been improving.”
Loss in NYC
On Friday, the Wildcats traveled to New York City to embrace a division I opponent on the old Madison Square Garden parquet. The D-III Lincoln shooters trailed by just eight at the half, but Globe Institute of Technology opened the floodgates down the stretch.
“We kept hanging around, but they showed us why they were a D-I team,” said Wasielewski. “They were throwing up alley-oops from the three point line, and we just ran out of gas.”
Howell McFarlane paced the way with 24 points, including four three-pointers, including three straight perimeter shots.
Sean Douglas (10 rebounds) and Kevin Smith scored 12 points apiece, and Mathew Correa finished with eight points and 10 assists, but Globe shot 63.2 percent from the floor and ran away with a 106-71 win.
“Our defense was phenomenal, especially in the first half. We played a mixture of man and zone, and we were able to keep the game close for a long time.”
Last year, the Wildcats eked their first tournament title with a pair of close games in Putney, VT. This year, it wasn’t even close. Less than 14 hours after losing to Globe, the Wildcats sped past one opponent. Two hours later, they did it again.
“I did the math, and we played three games in less than 24 hours,” said Wasielewski. “We played on Friday night in New York City, and our second game was in Vermont at noon on Saturday. Our last game started just before 4:00.”
In the semifinals, Lincoln rallied past Cleveland (OH) Institute of Music.
McFarlane put on a display, converting nine three pointers in the victory and finishing with 36 points. The former Manchester High School guard finished the season 64-for-147 from long range, and his 43.5 percent average is currently ranked 13th in the NJCAA division III rankings.
“He was the talk of the town. The coaches were saying that they’ve never seen a shooting performance like that,” Wasielewski said. “He was 9-for-13 from beyond the arc, and that’s amazing. It doesn’t get much better than that.”
Douglas added 13 points with eight rebounds. David Robinson scored 12 points with four steals, and Smith countered with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
The Wildcats opened a 17-point lead at the break. Cleveland cut the deficit to nine, but Lincoln cruised to an 87-63 win.
The momentum carried into the finals against the host team. Correa paced the Wildcats with 24 points and six assists. Jordan Wright added 15 points and seven rebounds. McFarlane added 14 points.
Lincoln rolled out to a 49-14 lead at the break and scored their second straight Landmark Tournament trophy with an 83-36 win.
“To win any tournament is great, but to win two years in a row really establishes us as a good tournament team,” said the coach. “We had a lot of energy, and Mat got most of his points off driving to the basket. That was a lot different than the Globe game, so it was good to see.”
Now, the Wildcats will turn their attention to the postseason. They’ll try to match their best mark with one tournament win, and they’ll look to raise the bar in the second round.
At the very least, the Wildcats have proven that last year was no fluke.
“We had a chance at our first winning record, and we proved to be one of those competitive teams that other teams talked about,” Wasielewski said. “It was pretty consistent that other coaches would tell me that they were nervous about playing us.”