BY ANDREAS BUTLER
The Bethune-Cookman University Wildcats men’s basketball team is putting up quite a fight this season.
The Wildcats are 16-12 overall and 10-3 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) in a three way tie for first place in the conference.
B-CU is also 9-2 in the friendly compounds of historic Moore Gymnasium, its home.
“We have a group of guys that are really committed to getting better each day. They’re not perfect, but they do what we ask. They are trying to play together, which has led to success on the court,” said Head Coach Ryan Ridder.
Ridder’s first year
Ridder in his first year with the program is turning things around. The current win total is the best since 2012-13 when B-CU went 18-17.
He said, “I don’t know that we’re exceeding expectations. We weren’t picked high in preseason polls. We wanted to put in a culture and have guys that do the right things on and off the court. Winning has been a byproduct of our guys buying in and trying to get better.”
Ridder is transitioning as a coach from Division I junior college to Division I NCAA basketball.
“I had some experience at this level as an assistant coach. The biggest transition is that you have to be great organizing your time and be efficient in all your tasks. At the junior college level, you can spend more time on actual basketball. At the D-I level, you have to balance staff and do a lot more administratively,” said Ridder.
The Wildcats are led by senior guard/forward Brandon Tabb (18.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 1.6 apg, 1.5 spg), who has scored 1,000 points in under two seasons.
They also have junior guard/forward Isaiah Bailey (16.1 ppg, 5 rpg, 4.6 apg) on the wing and big men in junior forwards Shawntrez Davis (14.6 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 1.2 bpg) as well as Soufiyane Diakite (9.6 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 0.9 bpg) in the front court.
Junior point guard Malik Maitland (10.5 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 4.7 apg, 1.6 spg), who played at local high school Father Lopez along with senior guard Jeffrey Altidort (6.1 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 2.0 apg) and junior guard Houston Smith (4.5ppg, 4.1rpg) are also key players for B-CU.
“We have a lot of guys that are helping us in a lot of different areas, including about five scoring in or around double figures,” added Ridder.
The Wildcats play an up-tempo offense and have really played well on the offensive end.
Ridder expressed, “We’re one of the best rebounding teams in the league and we play downhill offensively where we’ve gotten offensive boards and been able to get to the free throw line. Still, we must learn to play consistent defense for 40 minutes.”
The Wildcats continue to grow as a team. They are on a four-game winning streak and have gone 11-3 since January.
“I think after Christmas we got going. We really challenged our guys mentally. We had a three-day minicamp after the break, and I thought we got refocused and re-energized, which got us off to a good start in conference play,” noted Ridder.
Critical games left
B-CU has three games remaining in the season, including critical home contests against co-MEAC leaders Savannah State and North Carolina A&T.
The games will determine seeding for the MEAC tournament where winning is a must. The tournament champion goes to the NCAA Tournament.
Ridder said, “We have to ignore and block out all outside distractions and take it one day at a time. This is a completely new group and every game we think we’re getting better. We’ve got to focus on the three things that we can control, which is our attitude, effort and energy. We do that – we’re capable of beating anybody on any given night.”