By John Goralski
A trio of Wildcats were flirting with 10 points by the end of the first half. By the end of the game, all but two of Lincoln’s players were in double digits. The two that didn’t had scored nine points apiece.
On Saturday, Feb. 1, fans packed the Bristol Eastern bleachers to see Lincoln College knock off their latest victim. Cheerleaders led the cheers. Coach Preston Beverly worked the officials, and—even though the lead stretched to almost 30 points—the Wildcats kept scoring.
The team is riding high on an eight-game winning streak that stretches back to mid-December. It’s the longest in program history. With two more wins last week, the Wildcats have pushed past all of the Boston schools. They’ve outlasted every single one of the New York City squads, and they’ve pushed themselves into the top spot in the region.
But they are still playing like they have something to prove.
Sure, they’re happy with their national ranking, but the latest polls have Lincoln at No. 13 in the nation. Lincoln is the only team atop a region to be excluded from the top 10. Pollsters are still leery about the new kids on the block, so the team continues to concentrate on what they do best.
“We know that we’re a young program, so we’ll have to fight and claw for everything that we get. You can see that with our play,” said Beverly. “I don’t think anybody could have scripted this. Nobody could have predicted we’d have this many wins, be nationally ranked, and be the first team in the region, but we still have a lot to prove. We’re not satisfied.”
The week began with a 76-72 win in Worcester, Mass. over Quinsigamond Community College to complete a regular season sweep. The Wyverns boast a trio of players over 6’8”, but Lincoln out-rebounded them, 33-24.
“We know that they have some height, and they really tried to use them to get the ball inside,” said Beverly. “We were able to come up with some different schemes to defend them, and we had some really good ball movement on the offensive end. We were able to get some of their big men in foul trouble, and we got the win.”
Dairyon Davis paced the attack with 19 points and six steals. Chris Austin scored 16 points with seven assists. Kojo Lockhart led the Wildcats in the paint with 15 points and 10 rebounds, and Jalen David added 14 points and four steals.
Lincoln defenders combined for 19 steals and forced 19 turnovers as they built a five point lead at the break and held on for the win.
Daequon Antoine scored 24 points for the Wyverns. Jay McKinney added 16 points, and Davohn Sicard scored 14 points. Despite their size advantage, no Quinsigamond player was able to collect more than four rebounds in the loss.
That’s been the key to Lincoln’s success. No matter what they face, they seem to be able to counter it.
“It really is a testament to this group. They know that it isn’t just one person that rebounds. It really is a five-man ordeal. It’s nice to see everyone keying on each other and boxing out,” said the coach. “I think that every coach wants to get that chemistry that they need, and they know that’s the key to a good season. We’ve been really fortunate with the chemistry on this team.”
That was just as apparent in Saturday’s victory over Holyoke. Lockhart and Davis led the way with 12 points apiece, but Austin, David, and Shaleek Randolph scored 11 points apiece. Kyle Krompinger came off the bench for 10 points. Dominic Johnson and Brandon Ahmed scored nine points apiece.
Three points separated Lincoln’s top scorer and lowest scorer as they overwhelmed Holyoke with their balanced attack.
“This group of student-athletes is a really special group, and I’m proud of them. It’s almost like I’m in repeat mode. It was a team win, a team win, a team win, but that’s the way they’ve been playing this year,” said Beverly. “We always talk about hard work and family. You can really see it when they’re playing. They enjoy playing together. They enjoy it when guys are scoring or moving the ball around with extra passes, and you can really see it in our team rebounding.”
Lincoln has only six games remaining before the postseason with only three more home games—both at Courtside in Harwinton. Then, comes the final test.
“We still have a lot to prove. We’re not satisfied—even with how well we’re doing in the regular season,” said the coach. “We know that there’s still the playoffs. If we’re fortunate enough, there’s still the national tournament. We’ll take it one game at a time. We’ll continue to hone it in practice and work on it in games.”
Soon, the pollsters will have to take notice.
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By John Goralski