By John Goralski
When the buzzer sounded at the end of regulation, it drowned out the echo from Lincoln College’s potential game-winning shot. When the buzzer sounded at the end of overtime, the Wildcat’s go ahead attempt just missed the basket.
Nobody had given the NJCAA Division III team any chance at winning against a pair of junior college division one teams at the Westchester Community College Thanks-giving Tournament, but the Wildcats stayed within 10 points in one game and nearly won the second.
For Wildcat coach Preston Beverly, it was a good measure for his team’s potential.
“We had a shot to win at the end of regulation, and we had another shot to win in overtime,” he said. “They were very difficult shots, but that was the purpose of going to this tournament. We want to know how we fit in and what we need to work on so we can win these sorts of games in the future.”
The Wildcats are still fighting for respect in the junior college ranks despite setting team records for wins over the last few seasons and earning a postseason bid last year. Lincoln has yet to post a winning record at the end of the year, but that might be in their sights this winter.
The Wildcats have three more games before their midseason break. They are enjoying an 8-4 record with a 7-2 conference mark. Could this be the breakout year that fans have been expecting?
“I’m pretty happy with where we are right now,” said the first year coach, “but I’m not satisfied.”
Offense was the key as the Wildcats began the week at UConn-Avery Point on Monday, Nov. 26.
Jordan Taylor paced the offense with 21 points. Dairyon Davis scored 12 points. Kyre Jackson finished with 11 points and five rebounds as the Wildcats surged to an 11-point lead at the break. Lincoln players shot over 50 percent from the floor (36-for-71) and they out-rebounded the Huskies, 34-19.
“We were a little bit bigger than them, and we were able to get it inside a little bit more,” said Beverly. “They made a really solid run, but we were able to withstand that and go on our own run. We led the entire game.”
UConn struggled at times despited three players in double digits. Keith Porter and Ryan Wallack scored 15 points apiece. Malcolm Simmons added 13 points, bu tnobody else managed more than two baskets against the Wildcat defense.
Jackson scored four steals for the Wildcats. Jalen David forced three steals. Nine different players forced turnovers as Lincoln rallied for 17 steals in the game.
That victory was the team’s seventh in nine conference games. The two losses came by a total of three points. The early schedule has proven that the Wildcats could be competitive against ranked teams, bigger teams, and more established teams, but how would they handle scholarship teams?
That was precisely why Beverly scheduled the holiday tournament in Westchester against a field of NJCAA division I teams.
“It’s like the old saying that you should put your money where your mouth is. This was a chance to go out and compete against two very good teams with scholarship athletes,” said the coach. “It’s a good chance to see where we are, and this was really indicative of what we’ll have to face in our regional tournament with back to back games. If we’re lucky to make the national tournament, we want to see where we are.”
Westchester battled to a 34-26 lead at the break, but Lincoln matched them point-for-point in the second half. Damien Davis led the Vikings with 24 points. Joel Angus scored 21, and Keith Thomas added 11.
Still, Lincoln defenders allowed just one other Viking to score in the second half, and the Wildcats kept Westchester scoreless from three point range in the game.
“The difference came down to the post,” said Beverly. “We have really experienced post players, but when it comes down to scholarship teams they are a little bit bigger. We have 6-6 players, but they are 6-8 and 6-9. They had guys coming off the bench. Although we were able to compete and do some really nice things, they were able to out-rebound us all day.”
David led the way for the Wildcats with 15 points, and Chris Brown scored 10 points off the bench. Jackson finished with nine points and five rebounds, and the Wildcats kept the game within 10 points in a 75-65 loss.
That momentum carried into the final contest.
On Friday, Jackson battled in the paint for 22 points and 12 rebounds. David finished with 16 points, and Lockhart posted 14 points. Michael Campbell scored 11 points off the bench, and Davis secured eight points with 12 boards.
Lincoln led by nine at the half, but fell in overtime, 83-32.
“We should have gotten that second one, but it was a great performance by our guys to play against two scholarship teams,” said Beverly. “We were able to compete, and I think that’s a testament to our players and their mentality. We’re not satisfied, and those two games really helped prove that. We think that, on any given night, we can play with and beat anybody.”
Lincoln has three more games before the semester break. They have already secured a winning record going into the second half, but Beverly still thinks that the best is yet to come.
“As a team, we aren’t any where near satisfied,” said the coach, “and that hunger is what’s been driving us.”