Worcester, Mass. – Luca McCormick (Bradenton, Fla.) drilled a top-of-the-key three-pointer with 1.7 seconds left to send Clark University to a thrilling 77-74 win over Worcester State in front of a boisterous crowd at the newly minted Wellness Athletic Center on early Tuesday morning.
The contest between the two teams marks the second straight year in which they have faced each other at the earliest point possible to kick off the Division III men's basketball season. The Cougars won last year's "Midnight Mayhem" matchup as well, 83-78, in a game hosted at Clark.
This year's showdown had extra special significance for Worcester State as they used the event to christen their brand new athletic center after spending the better part of four seasons without a home court as the building was constructed.
Score: Clark University 77, Worcester State 74
Records: Clark University 1-0, Worcester State 0-1
Location: Lancer Gymnasium, Worcester, Mass.
How It Happened:
The Cougars started the game off hot, firing away from three-point land to build a 19-point first half lead at 50-31. John Pisacreta (Andover, Mass.) was the catalyst for the offensive fluidity, scoring 14 of his 17 points in the first 20 minutes.
They eventually took a 52-36 lead into intermission after shooting 57 percent from the field in first half (19-for-33) and connecting on seven three-point shots.
As effective as they were offensively in the opening 20 minutes, things slowed down dramatically for the Scarlet and White for most of the second half.
Led by an always-attacking Jamal Mustapha (Worcester, Mass.), the Lancers sliced into the Clark advantage, which actually began when Mustapha drilled a three-pointer as the buzzer sounded to close the first half right in front of the Cougar bench.
With their lead at just two at 65-63, the hosts got a pair of free throws from Shaun McCarthy (Oxford, Mass.), then a twisting finish inside from Mustapha to give them their first lead of the game at 67-65 with 5:26 left to play.
A little more than a minute later, the Cougars cut the lead in half on a McCormick free throw following a scrum a midcourt. A short time after that, the Scarlet and White went back in front when Pisacreta nailed his fourth three-pointer of the night.
Those two plays were followed by layups from Evan Lerner (Hopedale, Mass.) and a short McCormick jumper, bumping the Clark advantage to 73-67.
Worcester State finally responded when Paul Brooks (Arlington, Mass.) scored on the inside and then two Corey Gatta (Sturbridge, Mass.) free throws brought the Lancers to within two with 1:13 left to play.
McCormick wound up splitting a pair of free throws, making the score 74-71 with 26 seconds left. That left the door open for Mustapha, who drove from the left side down the lane, absorbed some contact and finished inside with 13 seconds left to play. His ensuing free throw left the game knotted at 74-74.
Pisacreta took the inbounds pass, weaved his way through the Lancer defense to the right side where he found a wide open McCormick for the game-winning triple.
Inside The Numbers:
Both teams ended up shooting close to 44 percent each, while the Lancers held a slight edge on the glass, 40-35.
Kings Of The Court:
McCormick scored 14 of his game-high 24 points in the second half on an extremely efficient 8-for-14 from the floor. Pisacreta, meanwhile, added six assists to his 17 point output, while David Mercier (Milford, Mass.) chipped in with 12 and Lamar Berk (Saint Augustine, Fla.) provided 11 points and seven rebounds.
Gatta paced the Lancers with 17 points, while Mustapha totaled 14 points, seven rebounds, three assists and three steals.
The Cougars are back in action on Friday, when they take part in the RWU Courtyard By Marriott Tournament where they will face off against Rhode Island College at 7:30 p.m.