Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Lincoln Wins ECAC Semifinal

By Rob Knox @knoxrob1

LINCOLN UNIVERSITY, Pa. –
Seniors Courtney Lucas, Zephrah Pam and Alyssa Washington may be the heart of the record-setting The Lincoln University women’s basketball team.

However, there’s no denying that junior guard Amani Clark, a Middletown (Del) native, is the soul, spirit and spark that has fueled a memorable year for the Lady Lions.

Playing with passion and purpose, Clark, a 5 foot, 7 inch guard, was the catalyst who led Lincoln’s second-half revival during an 81-72 victory over Dominican College in an entertaining ECAC semifinal at Manuel Rivero Hall Saturday afternoon.

Clark contributions to Lincoln’s first postseason victory since it reclassified to Division II in 2007 go far beyond the 10 points and game-high six steals she accumulated.

Her intensity and leadership during the first six minutes of the second half was the difference as Lincoln advanced to Sunday’s championship game against Bluefield State, a 76-72 winner over LeMoyne. The game begins at 1:00 p.m.

Clark was one of four players in double figures for Lincoln (22-8 overall). Pam was a beast finishing with 20 points and 20 rebounds to help the Lady Lions win the rebounding battle, 51-37. Courtney Smith added 12 points and Teira Pendleton, who was named to the MEAC All-Rookie Team, had 10 points.

Overall, every player contributed to win as 10 Lady Lions hit the scoring column.

Dominican concluded its season with a 15-15 record despite 22 points from Deja Gabbidon and 15 points from Rebecca Rabeiro.

However, with Lincoln sleepwalking through a tough first half, which ended with the Lady Lions trailing, 35-33, Clark went to work.

A human handcuff with fast fingers who sticks to defenders like Old Bay seasoning on crabs, Clark jumped in passing lanes, harassed Dominican ballhandlers, fearlessly attacked the basket, hit the floor hard a couple of times while firing up her teammates with her passionate play.

Lincoln opened the second half by scoring 16 of the first 19 points to open a 49-38 bulge with 15:20 remaining.

Clark only had two steals during the run, but her lockdown defense disrupted the Chargers’ offense.

Late in the game after Dominican rallied from a 16-point deficit and pulled to within 66-63 with five minutes remaining, Clark scored a layup, took a huge charge and threaded her only assist of the game to Pendleton, who scored and extended Lincoln’s lead to 78-70 with two minutes remaining.

Fourth year Lincoln head coach Jessica Kern, who earned the CIAA Coach of the Year honors, has enjoyed watching Clark mature.

“She has evolved, and I can’t say it enough, as a young lady here,” Kern said. “Not only from a being a spark on the defensive end, but now offensively you can look to her as a leader to make things happen.

"More importantly, she’s a stellar student-athlete. She’s the epitome of watching a program grow and it’s been fun watching her as well.”

Clark is one of the elite defenders in Division II.

She was second in the CIAA and 10th nationally in steals per game (3.3). Clark has had four or more steals in a game 13 times this season. In 16 CIAA regular season games, Clark led the conference with 3.8 steals per game. She may have a pleasant personality off the court and be an expert selfie picture taker, but Clark transforms into a defensive dynamo once the game begins.

“I love defense because that’s the one thing you can always control,” Clark said. “You can control if you shoot a good shot, but there are nights when your shot isn’t going to fall or your layups may rim in and out. Defense is the one thing I know for a fact that I am going to give it my all. I may get fouls here and there. If I turn the ball over, then I am working hard on defense to get it back for us.”

A pleasing package of electricity and excitement, Clark’s offense has also been consistent this season for Lincoln.

She is second on the team in scoring (11.2 points per game) behind Pam’s 11.4 average.

Clark has scored in double figures 18 times this season and has hit for 20 or more points four times.

She chose Lincoln over Morgan State, Rider and Millersville.

“I wasn’t heavily recruited coming out of high school, but I did have options,” Clark said. “I knew that wherever I went, I was going to put my all into everything I did because that’s the type of person I am. I just know part of the reason why I chose Lincoln was because of coach Kern. She matches my energy and heart. I see the passion in her that I see in myself.”

Clark was responsible for helping Lincoln defeat Livingstone in the CIAA semifinals and earn its first appearance in the CIAA title game. In the final 10 seconds of Lincoln’s thrilling 57-55 victory, Clark scored the go-ahead layup and then made the game-clinching steal as time expired.

Though the Lady Lions lost the title game to Virginia State and missed the automatic bid to the NCAA Division II tournament, Lincoln made people take notice of its program developing into a force in the CIAA and in the Atlantic Region. Clark and Pam were selected to the All-CIAA Tournament team.

“That week was full of focus,” Clark said of Lincoln’s run to the CIAA title game. “We all had a goal and everybody was on board with that. We had a goal to get to the championship game and win it.

"Even though we fell short, we left everything out on the court. Had we given up, we could’ve lost by 40 or 50 points. The feeling of losing to Virginia State never goes away, but we were grateful to have another opportunity to play a game after everybody told us that our season was done. This is something we don’t take lightly.”

Clark and the Lady Lions understand the significance of everything they accomplished this season.

At a place where history is revered, the players know all about the struggles of the past that included 50-point losses during the first two years of Lincoln’s transition from Division III to Division II, limited campus support, a 44-game losing streak between 1991 and 1992, and having to suffer the indignity of playing in oversized men’s uniforms during the 2004-05 season.

This season’s accolades are plenty.

They include being the first Lincoln University women’s basketball team to win 20 games in a season, beginning the year with a 5-0 record, sharing its first CIAA Northern Division regular season title, earning the No. 1 seed in the CIAA and ECAC tournaments, advancing to its first CIAA championship game in school history and hosting a ECAC postseason tournament for the first time as a Division II program.

Lincoln experienced postseason success before when it won the 2007 Association of Division III Independents tournament, also at home. As a program, Lincoln has won three straight postseason games. One more win and this squad can order another banner.

“This season has meant a lot to us especially since a lot of alumni are heavily involved,” Clark said. “They tell us how proud they are of us. They tell us what Lincoln was like before.

" It’s almost like we play for them because they’re so excited. They motivate us so much by just explaining to us that this didn’t happen before or that didn’t happen before. It’s just us playing for so many different things and people that bring us together.”

Competing for its first ECAC title is a nice reward for a sterling season and a temporary soothing tonic from losing the CIAA championship game.

Clark is still hungry and no matter what happens Sunday, she still won’t be satisfied until she finishes her career as a CIAA champion.

“I am going to work out all summer because I don’t want to ever feel the way I felt at the end of the CIAA tournament,” Clark said. “Yes, we accomplished a lot, but all in all, you want to get it done. You don’t want people to say, ‘oh you guys did so well, but.’

"Our goal has always been to win the CIAA championship.

"Every year that we’ve come up short for something, we’ve come back 10 times harder. I am excited because now we know what it takes to get there. Now, we have to know how to take it and finish the job.”

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