Parris Ridgeway-Higgs (above) and Goldey-Beacom are 18-3 and in first place in the CACC South. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
The 10 players on Goldey-Beacom’s basketball roster hail from seven different states. Seven is also how many seniors are on the roster, as well as how many of the Lightning began their college careers elsewhere before coming down to the Wilmington, Del. school.
It’s a lucky number, but the year Goldey-Beacom is having is due to anything but luck.
With a 71-66 win over Philadelphia University on Wednesday night, Goldey-Beacom secured its first Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC) playoff berth in five years. It was the 11th win in a row for the Lightning, under the direction of first-year head coach T.J. Dekmar, and puts them now 1.5 games over Philly U and Wilmington for the division title.
At 18-3 overall (12-2 CACC), Goldey-Beacom is just two wins away from matching the best mark in school history. But the team’s sights are set higher -- on the program’s first-ever trip to the NCAA Division II Tournament.
“We want to do this now,” senior captain Parris Ridgeway-Higgs said. “This is our last chance at basketball...we know that this is probably a great chance [to win a championship.]”
“It’s seven seniors, it’s the last chance, they know that they have to do whatever it takes to win,” said Dekmar, who took over the program when former head coach Chuck Hammond surprisingly moved up into the school’s administration in September. “A lot of them are in the same boat, they started at a different school and they wanted to find a place where they really loved playing basketball and enjoyed it. They all share a very similar experience, they all want to come here and win and they’re all buying in and they all have one goal, to win the next day.”
The Lightning won 20 games in 2009-10 and 2010-11, making the CACC final in each of those seasons -- as well as a third straight trip in 2012 -- but fell short of the championship and NCAA Tournament berth each time. In the four years since they went 36-72 (.333), winning 10 games or less each season.
Last year’s 10-18 (8-11 CACC) record was a two-win increase from the year prior, though 13 of those losses were within single digits. Experience through losing paid off, as this year’s group didn’t let a 16-point loss to Philly U in its second Division II game of the season (they opened with an eight-point loss to Delaware) ruin its confidence.
“I thought last year we could have been 17-3 but it’s just that we needed more chemistry, and now that we have a lot of our guys back, it’s very easy to be 17-3,” sophomore Corey Taite said. “We have very good chemistry, we all work together, we all play hard and we fight for one another.”
“It’s better body language, we care more about each other, we know each other because everybody’s been here for at least a year so we know each other more, how to pick each other up after we were down,” Ridgeway-Higgs said.
What makes this particular team so effective is its depth and versatility on both ends of the floor.
Including senior forward Elijah Tillman -- out for the year with a knee injury -- Goldey-Beacom has six players averaging double figures. The Lightning are second in the CACC in scoring offense and have the best scoring defense in the league, while also leading the conference in assists per game and are second in both offensive and defensive 3-point percentage.
“Everybody’s feeling good, we’re not selfish at all, everybody likes sharing the ball,” said Ridgeway-Higgs, the only one of the seniors who’s been at the school all four years. “There’s times where a lot of people are leading scorers or everybody picks each other up when we’re down, we have a good chemistry going on right now and something we haven’t had since I’ve been here, it’s really a good feeling.”
Riyan Williams (above) is playing a big role at Goldey-Beacom after four years as a Georgetown walk-on. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Riyan Williams, another one of the seven seniors, is a perfect example of the paths the various Goldey-Beacom players have taken to get to school.
Son of Georgetown star and 10-year pro Reggie Williams, the 6-foot-4 guard spent four seasons as a walk-on member of the Hoyas before deciding to spend his final year at Goldey-Beacom.
The difference between a national program like Georgetown and a local Division II school like the one he currently attends certainly made for a challenging transition, but one certainly worth the effort.
“I definitely had to humble myself when I came here,” he said. “The facilities, meal plans, different stuff that Georgetown had that we don’t have. We get one sweatsuit here, Georgetown we get like 10 sweatsuits a day. It’s a big difference, I had to humble myself, but I’m glad I’m winning. All the extra stuff doesn’t matter if you’re losing.”
Williams, who was on an academic scholarship at Georgetown, was originally attracted to Goldey-Beacom by the school’s one-year MBA program. Upon arrival at his new digs, Williams could sense the potential in the basketball team.
“When we started our first day of practice, we had been working hard in the preseason and everything, but the first day of practice everybody came out there motivated, working hard, you could tell,” he said.
In Wednesday’s win, Williams finished with eight points and 10 rebounds, including the exclamation point: a dunk off a home-run pass that put the Lightning up five with 18 seconds left and all but sealed the win.
And he isn’t the only major contributor that took a winding path to Goldey-Beacom. Shakeem Wilson (Monroe College) and Dante Thompson (Lackawanna College) each start for the Lightning, while Sameen Swint (Albright College) plays a significant role off the bench.
Wilson led Goldey-Beacom with 23 points in the win, though he was ejected late in the second half after the two teams exchanged some shoves following a hard foul. Thompson had 10 of his 12 points in the second half, and Swint added 14 off the bench.
The win was Goldey-Beacom’s first over Philly U since February 2012, making it the first time anybody on the current roster had scored one against the Rams and Hall of Fame head coach Herb Magee.
“I feel really good about this win, this is a great win for us,” said a beaming Ridgeway-Higgs, who had been 0-7 against the Rams. “Being number one in the conference coming in and them beating them, that’s big for us.”
Now just five games remain in the regular season before the eight-team CACC playoff, which will undoubtedly present quite a challenge for a team that’s lacking really any sort of postseason experience.
Dekmar might not have been around as long as Magee, but he knows not to disturb what’s working.
“My whole theory all year, don’t get in their way,” he said. “They’re a talented group of guys, I don’t want to get in their way...there’s too much talent on the floor for me to mess it up.”