Men’s basketball: Lions down Clark in OT thriller

Emerson’s men’s basketball team didn’t have time to think about the stat line of point guard Geoff Gray as he approached 1,000 career points in the closing minutes of Wednesday’s matchup with Clark University. The Lions had a game to win.

With less than a minute to play, sophomore guard Jack O’Connor made two key free throws to bring Emerson within three points of the Cougars, 81-78. Clark’s John Pisacreta was called for a carry on Clark’s ensuing possession, setting up Emerson’s offense with 29 seconds to go.

Out of a timeout, senior guard Michael Sheng drove to the basket to bring the Lions within one. Pisacreta redeemed himself with two key free throws to stretch Clark’s lead to 83-80, setting up the tense final seconds of regulation.

Out of Emerson’s final timeout, O’Connor passed to Sheng in the corner. Sheng, no stranger to close finishes in the Bobbi Brown and Steven Plofker Gym, stepped back and hit the game-tying three with six seconds on the clock, sending the game to overtime. He went on to collect Emerson’s first four points in overtime, leading the Lions to a 97-92 win.

Gray’s chase for 1,000 career points was lost in the dramatic finish. With Clark intentionally fouling late in overtime, it was O’Connor who was sent to the line. O’Connor made both free throws to finish with a team-high 26 points. Gray scored 25, leaving him a single point shy of the history books with 999 points.

The comeback was no easy feat for the Lions. Clark opened up an early 10-2 lead, and was up 42-37 at the half. The Cougars led by 11 with less than five minutes to play before Emerson clawed back to tie it.

Senior forward Corey Fitz was a difference-maker for Emerson in the first half, both on offense and defense. Fitz hit two threes within five minutes at the end of the first half and was a factor in the paint, tipping in missed threes by Gray and freshman guard Ethan Gabert-Doyon. Fitz also had two blocks to go with his season-high 17 points.

It was Gabert-Doyon’s drive to the basket that pushed the momentum in Emerson’s direction late. Gray found the freshman streaking to the hoop to leave the Lions just down two with 1:44 to play.

There would be no last second heroics in regulation reminiscent of Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s buzzer-beating win at Emerson last month. Clark’s Anthony Grzembski missed a last-ditch three after Sheng’s tying shot, setting up the second overtime of the season for the Lions and their first in conference play.

The win gives Emerson (10-12, 4-7) a season sweep of Clark (3-19, 0-11),  who the Lions beat 97-93 in Worcester on Jan. 6. The teams split their two much lower-scoring contests last season, with Clark beating Emerson 66-56 in Boston and the Lions winning 65-62 on the road.

Gray was a factor on the boards as well, collecting 14 rebounds for a double double. Emerson shot over 53 percent from the field. Clark’s Pisacreta was undaunted by a fired up crowd all night, scoring 27 points and hitting five three pointers.

The Lions are in sixth place in the NEWMAC, with Wheaton College (4-6) currently occupying the fifth slot. Wheaton did not play its scheduled game against Springfield College due to weather conditions Wednesday. The Lions and Lyons split the season series 1-1. The top five teams in the conference make the playoff tournament.

Emerson will travel to WPI for its next game on Saturday. Tip off is set for 2 p.m.

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