Worcester, Mass. – Clark University held off a furious second half rally to knock off a high-flying Babson College squad, 71-70, and in the process gave head coach Paul Phillips his 400th career coaching victory on Wednesday evening in New England Women's And Men's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) men's basketball action at a raucous Kneller Athletic Center.
The win for the Cougars gives them their first win in league play (1-6), snaps a six-game losing streak and also makes Phillips the winningest coach in men's basketball history at Clark with 234 wins, surpassing the legendary Wally Halas who guided the Scarlet and White from 1974-87.
Phillips' tenure has spanned 16 seasons over two stints and have included five trips to the NCAA Tournament, a pair of Elite Eight appearances and three NEWMAC Coach of the Year Awards.
"I'm thrilled to get 400, because it puts me in the company with Wally Halas, and things like that, but its more about this team, and us getting our first NEWMAC win, and certainly earning it," said Phillips.
Clark (10-8) came out on fire, scoring 46 points in the first 20 minutes – a total that surpassed the entire output in last year's NEWMAC Tournament Quarterfinal loss to the Beavers (52-34).
Andrew Musler (Belmont, Mass.) was the catalyst, scoring 12 points on aggressive drives and some long range shooting that helped the Cougars to a 46-32 lead at halftime.
After a scoreless first three minutes of the second half, Babson (13-5, 4-3 NEWMAC) cut into the lead as John Wickey (Manchester, N.H.) and Joey Flannery (Acton, Mass.) began to assert themselves with interior baskets and deep three-pointers.
Clark ran off seven straight to push its lead to its peak at 17 on free throws from Lamar Berk (Saint Augustine, Fla.), a fast break finish from David Mercier (Milford, Mass.) and a clutch three-pointer from Musler. When the dust cleared, the Cougars seemed to be in control with a 65-48 lead with less than nine minutes to play.
The Beavers, however, got hot, trimming the lead down to one in less than five minutes on an impressive 16-0 burst. Flannery was dominant during the run, scoring on two free throws, a strong inside finish, a steal and fast break layup and a smooth elbow jumper.
Clark aided the Babson run by committing five turnovers and when they gave away the ball again on a Travis Sheldon (Woodstock, N.Y.) steal, Wickey drilled a three-pointer that capped the run and made the score 65-64 with 3:53 to go.
The Scarlet and White answered back with consecutive three-pointers by Musler and Jake Gubitose (Fiskdale, Mass.) to give Clark some breathing room at 71-64 at 1:37.
Wickey connected on a three-pointer of his own and a Matt Palazini (Franklin, Mass.) free throw had Babson within three at 71-68 with less than a minute to play.
The Cougars committed another turnover and two Kenny Ross (Furlong, Pa.) free throws made the score 71-70 with 17 seconds left.
Another Clark turnover – this time a steal by Ross gave the Beavers the last shot and a chance for the win. Flannery got the ball at the top of the key and drove towards the rim but lost the ball. It deflected off a Cougar, giving the Beavers possession with 4.5 seconds to go.
An inbounds pass came to Flannery and his strong drive to the right resulted in an angled shot that banked off the glass hit the rim and spun out as time expired giving the Cougars and Phillips the historic victory.
Clark shot 44 percent from the field, held a 37-36 edge in rebounds, made ten three-pointers and outscored the Babson bench, 28-8.
The Beavers, meanwhile, had a 24-20 advantage on points in the paint, forced 19 turnovers and scored 25 points on those Cougar miscues.
Flannery and Wickey were fantastic for Babson, scoring 23 points each and combining for 16 rebounds on 17-for-32 shooting. Wickey was 4-for-7 from behind the arc, while Flannery added five steals.
Musler led the Clark attack with 18 points and ten rebounds on 7-for-13 shooting, while Mercier tossed in a career best 12 points to go along with four rebounds and three blocks.
"I can't be any prouder, you know I think me getting my 400th kind of overshadowed what the kids got done tonight," said Phillips. "That's not what you want as a coach. You want the kids to get the glory."