As Clark Men’s Basketball travelled to Springfield College on Wednesday, they knew they had to win both that night, and on Saturday night against WPI, to guarantee a spot in the playoffs.
The Springfield game went to overtime, but Clark guard John Pisacreta (’18) was called for travelling in the backcourt, and guard Brendan Kittredge (’19) saw his floater in the lane get blocked as the Cougars tried to claw back after a Springfield run. Clark lost 86-81.
The Cougars still have a chance to overtake Wheaton for the fifth playoff spot. Clark needs to beat WPI on the road on Saturday and for Wheaton to lose to Emerson in order to advance to the NEWMAC tournament.
Clark lost 82-62 to WPI on Jan. 18 at home, but the Cougars have made strides in the month since that game.
The team rose to a new level in conference play in their first game against Springfield College on Jan. 21. They beat the Pride 82-68, and played a strong second half after being down four points at halftime.
“I thought we played excellent defense,” said Clark Head Coach Paul Phillips. Co-captain forward David Mercier (’17) also had one of his best offensive games to date. He scored 19 points in the second half, constantly attacked Springfield’s front court, and went 8-8 from the free throw line during that half.
Mercier said this strategy stemmed from trying to get Springfield’s big man, 6’8” sophomore Kevin Durkin, to foul out of the game.
“Getting him out was a focus of ours, and I just took it upon myself to drive at him when I could, and get him in foul trouble,” said Mercier.
According to Mercier, this game emboldened him to play more aggressively on offense. “It’s something that I definitely look for now in the games after that,” said Mercier, “But it all just depends on how the flow of the game is going.”
The following weekend against MIT, it was Pisacreta’s turn. The junior guard went 6-10 from behind the arc and made all nine of his free throws. He finished with 29 points as the Cougars held on to beat MIT, the second ranked team in the conference.
“When he’s shooting the ball well, we’re all really energized, and we come together more,” said co-captain guard Joe Atkinson (’17) of his teammate.
Clark followed the MIT win with an 82-64 victory over Coast Guard, and improved to 5-4 in conference play. The team has since endured a four-game losing streak, dropping nail biters to Emerson, Wheaton, and Springfield, and losing 77-50 to top conference team Babson.
Atkinson said the team did not talk as much on defense in games against Emerson, Wheaton, and Babson.
“There were too many times those games where they just had layups or wide open shots because of lack of talking,” said Atkinson.
Their offensive efficiency has also dipped slightly in this skid. The team has shot 39.6 percent from the field in the last four games, below their conference average of 42.6 percent.
“We’ve kind of sputtered in our last couple games in terms of offense,” said Mercier, “We’re almost forcing shots sometimes. We were lucky enough to hit them before, but it seems they’re not going our way sometimes.”
Despite this, Clark has stayed positive and focused on the next game.
“I don’t think we’ve dwelled on our losses for too long,” said Atkinson.
The team feels confident about its chances against WPI on Saturday.
“If we play team defense, and really talk, I think we’re in good shape,” said Mercier. Clark was hurt in their first game against WPI by not rotating out to contest shooters. The team also struggled to contain drives made by WPI junior guard Chris Rodgers.
Clark will also look to play more aggressive offense. WPI’s defense stymied Clark and held them to 34.6 percent from the field in the first matchup. Clark also turned the ball over 18 times.
“They play unbelievable defense,” said Phillips. “WPI is in your face, denying the ball. We’re going to run things where you got to get open. You’ve got to be able to come off screens and be creative once on ball.”
Clark will face off against the Engineers on Saturday at 3 p.m. If they win, they will eagerly await the result of Wheaton’s game against Emerson at 6 p.m., which will decide whether or not Clark makes the tournament.