Worcester, Mass. – Buoyed by one of the largest crowds in school history, Clark University got a career-high 29 points from Tyler Huffman (West Hartford, Conn.) and the host Cougars held off crosstown rival Worcester State, 83-78 in the nation's first college basketball game of the season on Friday morning.
The Scarlet and White along with the Lancers put together a plan months ago to play at the first possible moment allowed by the NCAA – 12:01 AM on Friday, November 13. The plan came to fruition minutes after midnight when they tipped off in front of a packed house that was so loud at the beginning of the contest, pregame introductions were eliminated because nobody could hear the public address announcer.
Worcester State jumped out to an early lead 11-5 lead following an Alex Santos (Lawrence, Mass.) three-pointer. Clark answered back by scoring back-to-back baskets off of steals by Joe Atkinson (Milford, Mass.) to even the score at 13, but Santos was at it again, drilling another triple to put the visitors ahead 16-13.
Things were tied for a fifth time in the first half at 33-33 with a little less than six minutes remaining when Clark surged ahead, leading by six at 39-33 following a pair of free throws by Huffman.
The Lancers were within two after another Santos three-point bomb, but the Cougars got a free throw from Huffman and then a buzzer-beating layup at the half by Evan Lerner (Hopedale, Mass.) to go into intermission at 42-37.
Clark immediately pushed their lead out to eight to begin the second half as Luke LaLima (Colts Neck, N.J.) found Lamar Berk (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) underneath for an easy two and then he connected with Huffman for a three, making the score 47-39.
The Cougars continued to widen the gap as the game went on beginning with Huffman slithering his way inside for a hoop and then draining another triple to push the Clark advantage to 61-49.
Undeterred, the Lancers fought back, cutting the Clark lead to 65-61 as Santos got free on the break for an easy two with a little less than eight minutes left to play.
Ahead by just four, the Cougars went on what initially looked like a game-sealing 11-2 run that featured a pair of inside hoops from David Mercier (Milford, Mass.) and a long three that Huffman banked in as time ran out on the shot clock. After Mercier's second interior basket, Clark was in control at 76-63 with 4:23 to play.
Worcester State made one final push, getting as close as three at 81-78 on a pair of Marquez McKreith-Collins (Springfield, Mass.) – two of the six points he scored during the Lancer run – but that would be as close as the visitors would get as Huffman sank two free throws moments later to account for the final margin.
The game proved to be extremely physical with a combined 62 fouls being called. Both teams, however, never really took advantage of the foul totals as they combined to go 35-for-73 at the free throw line.
Worcester State won the battle of the boards, holding a 58-47 advantage, but the Scarlet and White had a 34-26 edge in points in the paint, and scored 23 points off of 24 Lancer turnovers.
After shooting just 33 percent from the field in the first half, the Cougars connected on 65 percent in the final 20 minutes (15-for-23).
McKreith-Collins led the Worcester State contingent with 22 points and ten rebounds, while Santos – just a freshman - cooled off in the second half but still finished with 19 points. Jamal Mustapha (Worcester, Mass.) chipped in with seven points and 15 rebounds, while Dante Neal (Lawrence, Mass.) played impressively in his first collegiate contest, totaling 15 points on 6-for-11 shooting.
For Clark, Huffman scored 19 of his career-high 29 in the second half and was extremely efficient in doing so, shooting 7-for-11 from the field, including a 5-for-8 effort from behind the arc.
Mercier meanwhile, joined Huffman in double figures ending with 15 points on 7-for-13 shooting, while Atkinson added eight points, nine rebounds and three steals. LaLima also handed out a game-high eight assists.
Clark (1-0) is off until Tuesday when they visit Fitchburg State for a meeting with the Falcons. Game time is slated for 7:30 p.m.