The student newspaper of Clark University

The Scarlet

The student newspaper of Clark University

The Scarlet

The student newspaper of Clark University

The Scarlet

A Season to Remember: Dazzling Success for Clark Men’s Basketball

Everett Beals
From left to right: Bruce Saintilus ’25, Isaiah Taylor ’25 and Mikey O’Brien ’24. Three of Clark’s starters, key mmbers of the dominant Cougar squad. Pictured here after a win against Salve Regina.

Before the start of the 2023-2024 season, I spoke with men’s basketball captain Mikey O’Brien on the team’s outlook for the year. In my interview with O’Brien, he said that this year’s team is the best he has been a part of during his tenure at Clark – and he was right. With just two games left in the season, as of Feb. 11, 2024, the Cougars currently hold the second best record in the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) at 11 wins and just three losses in conference play; alongside dominant intra-conference play, the Cougars’ overall record of 17 wins and six losses shows why they have been a force to be reckoned with this season.

How the year transpired

Clark started off the year hot, winning eight of their first nine competitions – dropping their sole loss to a strong Tufts University squad 71-75. After winning eight of nine to start the year, including victories in the team’s first two conference matches of the season, Clark men’s basketball traveled to Las Vegas for the 2023 D3Hoops Classic. In Vegas, men’s basketball faced off against two nationally renowned division three programs: Trinity University and Case Western Reserve University; Clark put up a valiant effort in both Las Vegas competitions, losing to Trinity by just one point and putting up an impressive 87 points against Case Western in another loss.

Despite coming away from Vegas with two losses, both games served as a confidence boost that the Cougars could keep pace with the best of the best heading back into conference play. It was clear that the pair of Vegas games fueled Clark’s play, as the team won six in a row afterwards – sweeping through the NEWMAC. 

During the team’s subsequent six game win streak after Las Vegas, Clark finally bested intra-city rival Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI)  for the first time since 2009, with a final score of 73-69. The Cougars’ victory over WPI placed Clark firmly atop the NEWMAC heading into the second half of conference play. 

Following Clark’s dazzling eight and zero start to NEWMAC play, the team struggled at first while facing off against the NEWMAC lineup for second time. The Cougars dropped rematches against Wheaton College, Babson College, and the United States Coast Guard Academy (USCGA) – falling to second place in the conference after a stretch of just one win in four competitions. 

Despite challenges from returning NEWMAC foes, the Cougars showed their resolve – pulling off crucial victories in their next two competitions against Emerson College (87-62) and WPI (69-62). Clark’s second win over WPI meant that the team swept the regular season series against the Engineers, a feat not accomplished since the 2002-2003 season. 

In the penultimate game of the regular season, the Cougs hosted the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for the team’s senior day game on Wednesday, Feb. 14. Seniors Mikey O’Brien and Jordan Richard were honored before the game; Richard scored a team-leading 26 points while going seven for eight from three, launching the Cougar’s to a 109- 85 win. 

In their final competition of the regular season, the Cougars handled business at Springfield College on Saturday, Feb. 17, winning 72 to 68. With the win at Springfield, Clark men’s basketball secured the number two seed in the conference at 13-3, a first round bye and a home playoff game on Thursday, Feb. 22. 

Seasonal stars

Outstanding individual play has bolstered Clark’s success this season, let’s highlight a few of the Cougars standouts now. Junior Bruce Saintilus out of Plainville, Mass. has led Clark’s scoring barrage over the course of the season, averaging 16.3 points per contest. Saintilus’ scoring prowess is driven by his well-rounded play – being able to take the ball to hoop aggressively and draw contact for free throws, alongside shooting with precision from deep. Saintilus has collected two NEWMAC offensive player of the week awards this season – unsurprising due to his natural scoring ability.

Point guard Isaiah Taylor was not far behind Saintilus in terms of scoring, averaging 15.1 points per game. Taylor, similarly to Saintilus, has excelled at slashing to the rim and taking contact near the hoop – resulting in 107 free throw attempts and 80.4% from the stripe this season. Taylor also leads the team in assists, dishing out 91, which highlights both the strong scoring and passing abilities of the guard. As a testament to his exceptional play, Taylor was awarded both NEWMAC offensive and defensive player of the week for the guard’s two-way performances in the D3Hoops Classic.

An Emerson player tries to keep the ball in play, guarded by Clark’s #10 Kyle Jackson. (Everett Beals)

Tenacious scoring from guards Saintilus and Taylor complements forceful interior play from Clark big man Kekoa McArdle. The 6’8” center from Pittsfield, Mass., McArdle locks down the paint for the Cougars – scoring and rebounding in droves. McArdle averaged 13.9 points and 9.2 rebounds per game, nearly a double-double across the year. The physical presence of McArdle in the paint draws defenders inside – creating space for Clark’s conference-leading three point battery. As with Saintilus and Taylor before him, McArdle has been honored as NEWMAC player of the week three total times – two of which being offensive awards and one being defensive. 

Rounding out the starting lineup, guards Reid Neumann and Mikey O’Brien filled in necessary roles for the Cougars. Neumann has been a deadeye specialist from deep, converting on a whopping 42.3% of 130 attempts from three. The captain O’Brien on the other hand was a jack of all trades, tallying 6.8 points and 3.5 rebounds per game alongside a team second 84 assists. 

Finally, strong bench play from Jordan Richard, Quentin Pridgen and Ian Calabrese provided much needed depth to the Cougars lineup. Richard, a senior from Lawrence, Mass., played 22.5 minutes per game – splashing on 47.6% of 82 attempts from deep. First year Quentin Pridgen has been a spark off the bench, averaging 6.5 points and 4.6 rebounds over 17.0 minutes per game. Calabrese also added to Clark’s conference-leading team three point attack, hitting 47.3% of all attempts from deep. 

The foremost offense in the conference 

Looking at the team as a whole once again, Clark’s offense led the NEWMAC in several key metrics. The Cougars have scored 81.1 points per contest as a team, nearly seven points higher than the next highest team. Clark’s offense was the only one to crack the 2,000 point total for the season, leading the NEWMAC in both overall field goal percentage and three point field goal percentage while doing so. Leading the conference in both total scoring and scoring percentage shows that the Cougar’s offense captured the best of both worlds: efficiency and volume.

The 2023-2024 season surely will be one to remember for Clark men’s basketball; after sweeping the Cougars’ arch rival for the first time in over twenty years and being nationally ranked at 23 by, men’s basketball has recaptured their 1980s glory. Only one more piece remains to take 2023-2024 a season for the history books: a NEWMAC playoff championship. The Cougars will host number 6 Emerson College on Thursday, Feb. 22 in the Kneller. With a win over the Lions in the semis, Clark would advance to the conference championship on Saturday, Feb. 24. A victory in the NEWMAC finals would send the Cougars to the national DIII tournament. Here’s to hoping the squad can pull it off, Roll Cougz!

Editor’s note: Clark beat Emerson 78-70 on Thursday night. The Cougars will host the Babson College Beavers on Saturday, February 24, for the NEWMAC Championship. Game starts at 1 p.m.

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