They enter tonight’s game having lost a combined seven games in a row, but Wilkes and King’s aren’t interested in the past.
It’s the first day of the rest of the season – so to speak – for the Colonels and Monarchs men’s basketball teams, who meet for the second time this season at 8 p.m. in the Marts Center.
Wilkes, the preseason Freedom Conference favorite, has dropped three in a row and is looking to pull away from the pack in the league and lock down a postseason berth.
King’s, which had won three of the last four conference championships, is on a four-game slide and is trying to climb out of the league’s cellar.
Neither situation is a familiar one for these programs, which are both hoping that a game against their city rival will create a spark for the stretch run.
Despite sitting last in the league at 1-8, King’s hasn’t looked outmatched in Freedom Conference play, even during the team’s recent slump. The Monarchs had a chance to tie FDU-Florham in the final seconds of Saturday’s loss and played first-place DeSales evenly in the first half before losing by nine on the road last Wednesday.
“Back in the DeSales game, the first couple minutes of the second half down there it got away from us,” King’s coach J.P. Andrejko said. “Learning to play 40 minutes is a challenge for a young squad, and this group is learning how to do that.”
Wilkes, meanwhile, lost a tight game on Saturday when reserve guard Michael Donatoni’s lay-up at the end of regulation was blocked, resulting in a two-point defeat at league newcomer Eastern.
The Colonels (9-7, 5-4 Freedom) had senior Steve Kline back in the lineup against the Eagles after he didn’t play in a rough 65-30 loss to DeSales that at the time was for first place in the league at the midway point.
Now, with seven games left in the conference schedule, Wilkes finds itself three games back of the Bulldogs for first place and stuck in a three-way tie with Eastern and Alvernia for the important third seed in the conference.
With the conference expanding to nine teams for this season, the playoff field also expanded, increasing from four to five. Finishing in fourth or fifth place means a play-in game, with the winner heading on the road to play the top seed in the semifinals.
But today, losing streaks and postseason possibilities aren’t on the mind of either team.
Both are trying to block out everything but earning a win in the city rivalry.
“You can’t get in any type of comfort zone,” Rickrode said earlier in the season. “You can’t look back. You can’t look back and say we should be (unbeaten) in the conference. All that matters is the team you’re playing that night.”
Wilkes won the first meeting this year at Scandlon Gymnasium 80-71 back on Dec. 3 in the conference opener for both teams. The two sides have split the regular season series each of the past three seasons.
Wilkes has made huge strides this season, using a win at Eastern on Saturday to go above .500 overall on the season. The Lady Colonels even currently hold the fifth and final playoff spot in the Freedom Conference.
But no hurdle could mean more for the program’s progress than a win over rival King’s.
The Lady Monarchs have won 23 straight over Wilkes, a streak that stretches back nearly 12 years, as the Lady Colonels’ last win in the series came on Feb. 11, 1997.
King’s took the first game between the teams back on Dec. 3 with a 71-58 win. But even that was a much closer result than the past few seasons.
“They’re playing well right now,” King’s coach Brian Donoghue said of Wilkes. “We’re going to have to defend their guards, we’re going to have to keep them in front of us with their athleticism. It’s a very athletic team.”
King’s at Wilkes basketball
6 p.m. (women), 8 p.m. (men)
King’s (8-9, 1-8)
PG Kyle Stackhouse (Fr.)…5.6 ppg
SG Mike Wagner (Jr.)…7.1
SF Nick Reisig (Fr.)…5.9
PF Jim Schule (Jr.)…10.5
C Kevin Conroy (So.)…16.8
Wilkes (9-7, 5-4)
PG Chris DeRojas (So.)…18.1 ppg
SG Chris Gulla (Jr.)…5.9
SF Tom Kresge (Jr.)…15.3
PF Steve Kline (Sr.)…15.1
C Kendall Hinze (Fr.)…4.8
King’s (7-11, 5-4)
PG Brittany Muscatell (Fr.)…6.0 ppg
G Paige Carlin (Fr.)…6.6
G Kaitlyn Fiorino (Sr.)…17.4
F Julianna Lynott (Fr.)…4.7
F Kaitlyn Malshefski (Jr.)…6.6
Wilkes (9-8, 4-5)
PG Allison Horn (So.)…10.9 ppg
G Sam Lynam (So.)…11.8
G Brittany Ely (Jr.)…4.2
F Samantha Simcox (Fr.)…7.9
F Chelsey Gosse (Sr.)…11.2