For teams outside the WCAC’s traditional basketball elite, the grueling conference schedule often reduces the measure of success from a conference title to competitive showings by midseason: when the powers settle into their traditional spots atop the league, a close game with loaded teams from Paul VI, St. John’s, DeMatha or Gonzaga can punctuate a season for a less prominent team like St. Mary’s Ryken.
But with a particularly strong roster and three near-miss losses already, Ryken Coach Dave Tallman delivered a message to his team at Monday’s practice:
“I said, ‘You guys are settling for people congratulating you when you lose by three. But you have to think, that’s a win we have to get.’ ”
Tuesday night, his Knights (10-5, 3-4 WCAC) got the crucial conference win Tallman had been hoping for, a 73-67 win at Gonzaga. Though the Eagles (6-11, 3-5) are struggling so far this season, the win was an important one for the Ryken: its first over Gonzaga since February 2007.
Ryken guard Jarin Hilson, a senior who transferred in from West Virginia prior to this season, scored 32 points from all over the court — four from behind the arc, several in the crowded purple paint, and ten more at the foul line — to propel the Knights. Buoyed by Hilson’s sharpshooting, Ryken opened up a 17-point lead at one point in the first half, and maintained a double-digit lead or close to it for almost the entire rest of the game.
Hilson limped between possessions throughout the game, hobbled by a knee injury suffered in an overtime loss to Ireton over the weekend. But as he flew up and down the court in a game played at top speed for lengthy stretches, Hilson showed no signs of slowing until the game was safely in hand. Despite his recent arrival to the WCAC, he felt the gravity of the win.
“It’s just an honor to be able to come in here and beat them on their home court. They’re a really good team,” Hilson said. “We feel like we’re one of the best teams in the conference. A lot of people look down on us because we didn’t have a very good season, but we want to win and we work to win.”
Ryken’s long-awaited win over Gonzaga might’ve taken the unexpected form of a blowout had it not been for Eagles diminutive freshman Chris Lykes (19 points), who seemed to slow the Knights with defense or a string of big buckets whenever Ryken looked ready to push the game out of hand. Lykes finished with 19 points.
But neither his efforts nor a 14-point showing from Gonzaga guard Bryant Crawford were enough to keep Ryken from making its long-awaited statement.
“I thought we had the guys to win [games over the top teams],” Tallman said. “We just had to get a win, and this was a big one. I hope there are more to come.”