By Aidan Mastandrea
With the regular season winding down, the College’s men's basketball team is gearing up for the conference tournament. A season of ups and downs sees the Lions with a record of 8-15 after picking up a win on Feb. 4 against William Patterson.
The College’s record may be deceiving. After an all but spectacular start to the season, winning only two of the first six games, the focus shifted to non-conference play. The team traveled down south to play games against Christopher Newport University and University of Mary Washington, two nationally ranked programs, subsequently adding another two losses to their record.
There was, however, a bright side to these games. When asked about how this tough schedule prepared the Lions, head coach Matthew Goldsmith said, “It definitely helped prepare us for the tougher games… if you want to be the best you have to beat the best.”
The College saw immediate success after their holiday trips to Virginia and North Carolina, winning five out of the next six back on New Jersey soil.
A big reason for the Lions resurgence has been sophomore Pat Higgins. Higgins, a transfer from Daemen University, has been able to take some pressure off of senior back court mate Ant DiCaro. Fitting in on a new team has been no issue for Higgins.
“He immediately had a lot of respect from the guys because of how hard he works,” Goldsmith said.
Putting up 21 points in Saturday's win against William Paterson helped Higgins receive NJAC player of the week honors this past week.
Higgins' aforementioned backcourt running mate, Anthony DiCaro, has had a tremendous year himself. DiCaro has been a driving force for the Lions all year and averaged 20 points per game during the Lions five game win streak. As of late, DiCaro has struggled while teams key in on him defensively. William Patterson held him to 3-10 shooting and only 11 points on Saturday.
“Keep building him up,” Goldsmith said when asked what the plan was regarding DiCaro’s recent slump. “When he shoots it well, we are a very dangerous team and a tough team to stop.”
The Lions will look to build some momentum from the win Saturday as the postseason looms. If the conference tournament started today, the College would be the 5 seed with Rowan University, sitting firmly at the top of the NJAC with a conference record of 15-0.
The tournament is nothing new for coach Goldsmith or his players, having won it in 2020 and moving on to the Division III NCAA tournament that year. The seniors on this year's team were just freshmen on that championship squad, but what they learned will certainly be an advantage that some teams do not have.
“We have to win to survive,” said Goldsmith on Tuesday. The Lions will be doing all that they can when the time comes. “There is nothing to hold back. We will prepare as best as we can and put our best gameplan forward.”
While the postseason approaches, the College will have two more games to bolster their record and earn a higher seed. Next on the schedule is a second matchup against Ramapo College on Saturday, Feb 11., who currently have a 5-11 record in conference. After beating them earlier in the season, the Lions will look for the season sweep on senior day in Packer Hall.