By BRIAN JENNINGS
The Lincoln Wildcats (17-6) hosted the Gateway Lions (8-17) at the Courtside Sports Center in Harwinton on Tuesday, Feb. 17. The Wildcats defeated the Lions, 99-88, in what would be the last game of their regular season. Who could have guessed it?
Guard Derrick Wilson (9-for-15) led the Wildcats with 23 points and five assists. Forward Austin Mofunanyo (7-for-9) helped out with a double-double of 17 points and 12 rebounds.
Jacob Collins (4-for-5) came off of the bench and scored 15 with eight boards. Forward Josh Gause (5-for-9) had a triple-double of 15 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 blocks.
Then, the snows came, and Lincoln had to wait for their next game through a flurry of cancellations…and wait…and wait…
“We were still practicing, but when you have that many days without a game, it’s difficult to be sharp and be on point,” said Wildcats coach Preston Beverly. “While we came out low, we were able to really finish strong. And that’s what you want from your team, to be able to bounce back and have that resiliency.”
The Wildcats wouldn’t play their next game until 11 days later, due to a cancelled regular season finale against the Bunker Hill Bulldogs in Boston, Massachusetts, which was scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 19. Then, the CT State tournament was canceled after another winter storm swept through the region. As one of the top two seeds, Lincoln advanced to the regional tournament to play their first contest in almost two weeks.
The Wildcats resumed competition in the Region XXI Semifinals on Saturday, Feb. 28 against the Springfield Tech Rams (19-14) at Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester, Massachusetts. It was just their second game since Feb. 7.
The Wildcats had beaten the Rams in their two previous meetings during the season, but the third time would not be a charm for the Wildcats, ending their season with a loss, 78-66.
“Springfield is a well-taught team,” said Beverly. “They’re similar to us in the fact that they’re built around any individual. So they play really well together. They’re a really good team.”
The Rams made it to the NJCAA Division III Tournament championship game last season and were coming off of winning the Massachusetts State Tournament the weekend before.
With scouts from scholarship schools in attendance at the game, Mofunanyo showed why he is capable of playing basketball at the next level. Mofunanyo was (10-for-11) led the Wildcats with a double-double of 23 buckets and 16 rebounds.
“Austin had a heck of a game,” said Beverly. “He didn’t miss. He was grabbing rebounds and was scoring inside. He played phenomenal in the game. I’m proud of all of them, but for him being a sophomore in his last go-around, I’m very excited for him because he really showed a lot of people what he can do.”
Guard Christian Walker (3-for-4) contributed 11 points, and Khalil Newsome (4-for-7) came off the bench with 15 points and seven boards.
Guards Chris Prophet (6-for-17) and Lance Hill (6-for-12) led the Rams with 19 points apiece. Springfield built a two-point lead at the half, but the Rams out-scored Lincoln, 41-31, after the break.
“We played really well together,” the coach said. “It just wasn’t our day. It was a possession game. Springfield was playing really well. They were well prepared and in game form. On the other hand, we had 20 days where we had only played one game. And that’s difficult for any team. Springfield was hot at the hot hand.”
Although the game was out of state, that didn’t stop fans from showing their love and support for their Wildcats.
“We have great fans,” said Beverly. “I know that they traveled up to Worcester to watch the game. They are a huge part of our success.”
Looking forward to next season, Beverly said he is looking forward to coaching his guys, but said he knows some might be leaving as well.
“We have a couple of freshmen who will probably be receiving some scholarship offers from schools,” said Beverly. “I hope to have them all back, but I have a feeling that a couple of them will be leaving early, too, accepting scholarships to go to four-year schools. At the end of the day, that’s what I want, and that’s what the colleges want. We want to see our students succeed on a bigger scale. We want to help, guide, and mentor our students so they can reach their dream.”
With the loss, Lincoln’s season came to an end. The Wildcats were 17-6 overall (16-3 in conference play).