By John Goralski
Midway through Lincoln College’s 13-game winning streak, a colleague cornered Preston Beverly in the halls of the school. He told the first-year coach that the Wildcats might want to consider losing a game just to find out what it’s like to lose before the postseason. Beverly didn’t know what to say about it. In fact, he hadn’t even considered the winning streak in that way before.
Of course, a fluke loss in the regular season finale finally put an end to the team’s unprecedented streak. It didn’t really matter much. Beverly’s team had already secured the regular season championship. Roxbury Country Club, the streak spoiler, had already secured their own spot in the regional tournament this weekend.
The only thing it really changed was the focus of historians and statisticians.
“We never really looked at the winning streak as this big burden,” said the coach. “I know that some people think of it as a big deal, but for us it was never something that we looked at to define us. You have to rack up wins to reach the goals that we set as a team. We’re more upset that we lost than that we lost the streak. We wanted to go into the playoffs with a win.”
On the other hand, it’s hard to discount a winning streak that accounted for more wins than any previous season total. It’s also hard to minimize a streak that propelled the Wildcats from a competitive 8-5 team into a legitimate contender for the national title.
Still, Beverly and his team have tried hard to keep it all in perspective as they try to start a new winning streak in a hunt for a national championship.
“I don’t think about winning streaks,” he said. “The kids don’t think about it. We’re only thinking about how we can win this game. We don’t care about the last game or the next one. We just remember that last loss, and we don’t want it to happen again.”
Even before the streak began, Beverly and his coaches knew that the Wildcats were a top contender. Three of those early losses were decided by a combined total of four points. The other two losses were against scholarship schools from higher divisions. Even the loss in the finale came against a tournament team, so Beverly doesn’t get too caught up in the excitement of any particular game.
“All my guys remember those losses, and they remember what it felt like,” he said. “We’ve talked about it. We’ve watched the films to see what we did wrong. This streak was great. We appreciate that they’ve been able to do this, especially here with a school with a limited athletic history.”
Lincoln wrapped up its regular season this week with a pair of overtime victories and the five-point loss to Roxbury. Both wins came in overtime battles. The loss was contested right until the end. As the top seed in the upcoming tournament, Beverly knows that his team is going to continue to face opponents with that bullseye on their backs.
Perhaps that’s the best part of surviving such a long winning streak, and it’s the lesson that Beverly wants his team to remember.
“One of the things I talked about to the group after those overtime games is that now we can legitimately say that we have found every possible way to win a game, whether it’s overtime, a buzzer beater, a three pointer at regulation or being able to maintain a big lead or small lead,” he said. “When you talk about all those facets of a basketball game, we’ve gone through all of them this season.”
On Thursday, the Wildcats had to overcome a first half deficit for the first time in weeks. Lincoln turned to their offense in the second half and began to pick away at the lead. Kojo Lockhart finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Jordan Taylor scored 19, and Kyre Jackson scored 16. Chris Austin and David Jalen scored 15 points apiece, and the Wildcats surged for 17 points in the overtime period to secure the win.
“When you talk about the best four teams in the region, they are definitely among them,” said Beverly. “They’ve got a great scoring guard, Shane DaRosa (26 points), and he caused us some trouble in the first half and going into the second half. For us, it wasn’t as much being able to score but being able to key on and focus on their go-to player to limit his production in order for us to win.”
Two days later, the Wildcats had to overcome a hot perimeter team that went 7-for-14 from the three point line in the opening half. In the second half, Lincoln’s defense held them to just four three pointers in just as many attempts. Lincoln answered with six players in double digits and out-scored Gateway, 15-5, in the overtime period.
“When you go 7-for-14 from the three point line, that definitely keeps you in the game,” said the coach. “It was a drastic difference in the second half, and we did a little better job of keying on some of their bigger shooters. I think they just got tired legs and couldn’t keep making threes at that great pace.”
On Monday, Feb. 24, the winning streak finally came to an end. The loss was the team’s first since Tuesday, Dec. 2, and it was the team’s only home loss of the season. It was no surprise that Lincoln finally broke into the top 10 in the national rankings with the final poll on Tuesday.
Lincoln (19-4) will try to continue their story this weekend at the District VIII Championship in Boston as the tournament’s top seed. If the Wildcats win on Saturday at 4 p.m., they will face the winner of the other semifinal on Sunday at 3 p.m. All games are scheduled to be played at the Bunker Hill Health & Wellness Center.
For now, Beverly is just enjoying the ride.
“We have been in that play-in game. A sixth seed is the best that we’ve ever been,” he said. “Now, to bypass that play-in game to get to the seimifinals? For Lincoln College, we’re making more school history. We’re regular season champions, but we don’t want the story to end there. We want to keep writing that story, and all our guys are focused on that.”
By John Goralski