Worcester, Mass. – Down by as many as 21 points in the first half, host Clark University stormed back to knock off Worcester-area rival Nichols College, 58-56 in the waning seconds in non-league men's basketball action on Tuesday evening.
Travis Curley (Trumbull, Conn.) connected on a right side jumper with 15 seconds remaining to give the Cougars a 57-56 lead and after a pair of missed Bison free throws, Jake Gubitose (Fiskdale, Mass.) split a pair of his own from the charity stripe, making the game 58-56 with five seconds left.
Nichols still had a chance to force overtime or steal the win, but Justin Kuntz (Wallingford, Conn.) saw his good look at a three-pointer fall short as time expired.
The win for Clark is their fourth straight and pushes their record to 5-2 in advance of Thursday's matchup with Becker, while Nichols drops their fourth consecutive contest to dip to 2-4.
Things started out well for the Bison as they were the more aggressive team, building a 20-7 lead a little more than halfway through the first half as they forced Clark to shoot 3-for-14 from the field and commit six turnovers in the game's first 11 minutes.
A Matt Langadas (Casco, Maine) layup made the game 27-9, and after a Gubitose three-pointer put the Cougars in double figures, back-to-back triples from Kuntz and Ryan Sheehan (North Attleboro, Mass.) gave the Bison a commanding 33-12 edge with less than four minutes remaining in the opening stanza.
Clark, however, began mounting its comeback by scoring the half's final seven points, as Gubitose scored on an inside layup, then dropped in a three-pointer and a Curley hoop made the game 33-19 at intermission.
Both teams went nearly five minutes without scoring spanning the end of the first half and the start of the second, but the Cougars scored 10 of the first 12 points in the second half, highlighted by eight points from Curley and an steal and acrobatic finish by John Karas (South Glastonbury, Conn.), making the score 35-31 with under 15 minutes left to play.
A Kuntz three-point play was answered by a Tucker Esborn (Branford, Conn.) top of the key triple, but Craig Merrick (Ledyard, Conn.) drilled a three-pointer of his own to keep the Nichols lead at seven.
After back-to-back Drew Billington (Fairfield, Conn.) fast break baskets finally knotted the game at 42-42, the lead changed hands five more times until the score was again tied at 48-48 with a little less than five minutes remaining.
Clark went ahead by four at 52-48 on an Esborn inside finish and a pair of D.J. Bailey (Palmer, Mass.) free throws, but the Bison surged ahead with eight straight points of their own, capped by a Sheehan halfcourt steal and finish, making the score 56-52 with 1:05 left.
Those points, however, would be Nichols' last of the game as Billington converted a conventional three-point play at the 56 second mark, pulling the Cougars within one.
A five-second call against the Bison with 31 seconds left in the game setup the possession that led to Curley's go-ahead, game-winning basket.
Clark rebounded from a cold shooting first half in which they connected on just 33 percent of their attempts (8-for-24), to shoot 47 percent (15-for-32) in the final 20 minutes and 42 percent for the game.
The Bison, meanwhile, made 45 percent in the first 20 minutes, but just 31 percent in the final 20 to go 39 percent for the contest (22-for-57).
Statistically, the game was pretty even, with Nichols holding a 37-36 edge on the glass and a 26-20 advantage on points in the paint. Clark scored 17 points off of 13 Bison miscues, while Nichols had 16 points off of 14 Clark mistakes.
Curley led the Cougars with a game-high 19 points and six rebounds on 8-for-13 shooting, while Bailey came off the bench to record 10 points, five rebounds and three blocks.
Esborn ended with seven points and a game-high nine rebounds and Billington scored all seven of his points in the second half.
Kuntz led the offensive attack for Nichols, registering 17 points and four rebounds. Sheehan, who torched the Cougars for 27 points in their 63-61 win in Dudley last season, struggled to find his shot all night, totaling 11 points on just 4-for-15 shooting.
Jessy Michaud (Tamarac, Fla.) provided a spark off the bench for Nichols, posting four points, four rebounds and a game-high four steals.
The Cougars will put their winning streak on the line on Thursday with a home contest against Becker, while the Bison are off until they take part in the Daytona Beach Shootout on December 20 against Taylor.