Reading, Pa. - Buoyed by a monster
performance from sophomore Brian
Vayda (Sturbridge, Mass.), who converted a key
three-point play in the final 30 seconds, visiting Clark stunned a
packed house of 1,313 fans with a miraculous, 69-67,
come-from-behind win over host Albright in the first round of the
2010 NCAA Division III Men's Basketball tournament Friday evening
at the Bollman Center.
Trailing by as many as nine in the second half after leading by nine in the first half, the Cougars (17-12), slowly erased the Lions 57-50 advantage with a 8-0 burst late in the second half.
A breakaway dunk by Mark Alexander (Providence, R.I.) was followed by a three-point play from freshman Tucker Esborn (Branford, Conn.). On Clark's next possession, Alexander dropped in a long-range three to silence a boisterous crowd and give the Cougars a 58-57 edge with 4:51 remaining.
Matt Ashcroft, who proved to be a thorn in Clark's side all evening, answered the Cougar spurt with a driving layup and the subsequent free throw to give Albright a two-point lead. That play ignited a 7-0 Lions' run that gave the hosts a 64-59 lead with less than three minutes to play.
Clark wouldn't go away however, holding Albright scoreless over the next two minutes and Alexander nailed a short jumper and Vayda made four straight free throws to give the Cougars the lead back at 65-64 with 1:30 left.
Commonwealth Coast Conference Player of the Year Zac Shaeffer missed a right side jumper but the Lions got the offensive rebound and worked the ball around to Adam Van Zelst, who found a crease in the lane and attacked the basket, drawing a foul while converting the basket. His free throw put the Lions up two at 67-65 with 45 seconds left - a play that sent the crowd into a frenzy.
That lead was short-lived, however, as Alexander missed a short jumper but Vayda was able to wrestle the ball away from 6-foot-10 Derek Hall and go up strong and finish the play while being fouled. He converted the three-point play and the Cougar edge was 68-67 with 30 seconds remaining.
Shaeffer drove to the basket on the next possession but his layup was short and Chris LoPiano (Franklin Square, N.Y.) was fouled with seven seconds remaining.
He split the free throws, leaving the door open for the Lions to tie or go for the win but they never got a shot off, setting off a wild celebration from the 50 or so Clark fans who made the trip.
In a game that featured nine ties and ten lead changes, Clark took advantage of 15 Albright turnovers, converting them into 27 points.
Vayda finished with game-highs of 28 points, 10 rebounds and four assists on 9-for-15 shooting and a 10-for-11 performance at the charity stripe.
Alexander added 18 points for Clark, who also got eight points and five rebounds from Esborn.
Ashcroft paced the Lions with 23 and Shaeffer added 18 for Albright who sees their season come to an end with a 21-6 overall record.
The Cougars move on to the second round and will face Randolph-Macon, who defeated Cabrini College in the day's first game, 95-66.