By Katie Patton in Sports
* Updated 3/11/15 @ 11:41 a.m. *
For the first time in 20 years Clark has brought the Northwest Athletic Conference championship back to Vancouver.
After beating three teams in a row, the Penguins capped their tournament run against the No. 1 seed Edmonds Tritons (24-5) and beat them handily 78-59.
“I’m just doing this so I don’t get fined,” joked Head Coach Alex Kirk. “This game was a lot of fun. Our guys played their butts off. Edmonds is a good team, and they fought us hard tonight.”
Leading Clark was Darrius Mathis with 18 points, Evan Garrison with 16 and Rian Bassett came off the bench to chip in 15.
Overwhelmed by emotions, Mathis was in the stands giving hugs all around. “This is the greatest feeling in the world,” he said. “We fought so hard and it paid off.”
The Edmonds Tritons came into the game averaging 72.25 points per game throughout the tournament but were held to just 19 points in the second half Tuesday night.
“Obviously there’s the cliche, ‘Defense wins championships,’” Kirk, the Western Region Coach of the year, said. “There were times that we were just nasty on the offensive side, where we couldn’t score, but our defense was able to hold the teams down to give ourselves a shot of winning. The thought process for us is just to keep playing hard and eventually you start to get some breaks on the offensive end.”
In the first half, the Penguins found themselves struggling to contain the Tritons from behind the arc. Edmonds sunk 7 of 16 from three-point land.
Clark responded with an 8-2 run to end the first half which brought them to within two points. Bassett scored four of the last eight.
“Coach said that someone needed to step up this tournament,” Bassett said. “I didn’t play very much coming into this game, but I believed in what he said and I believed in my team. It all came together for us to win a championship.”
Leading the Penguins in scoring during the first half was Western Region Freshman of the Year, Bryan Berg with 11 points.
“I came out really excited, as anyone would in a championship game,” Berg said. “That feeling kind of goes away after the first few plays and you have a realization that you are the final two teams on the court. The defense really won us this championship. Yeah, we scored 78, but we only allowed them 59.”
The Penguins carried their momentum at the end of the first half into the start of the second. Two dunks from Orlando “Tre” Vance within 4 minutes of each other sent the Clark fans and bench on fire, helping to extend the lead.
Edmonds continued to fight throughout the late minutes of the game, but Clark was able to sustain its lead. The Penguins shot 42 percent from the field while the Tritons shot a meager 25.
“Our defense is stingy,” Garrison said. “We had our struggles and we started clicking at the right moments.” Garrison was given the Most Valuable Player award for the tournament.
Kirk stated how proud he was of Garrison after this season and spoke of how he is a perfect example of a hard worker. “He embodies what it means to be a Penguin,” Kirk. “He’s selfless, he’ll do whatever it takes to get a win and his ultimate goal was to win a championship.”
“It’s hard to put it all into words,” Garrison said. “From Sept. 22 (pre-season practices), we’ve been coached to this level and we have been talking about this championship game all season long. It hasn’t hit me yet everything that we as a team have accomplished. And I couldn’t believe it when I heard my name called out as the Most Valuable Player, I was like ‘Really, that’s me?’ I’m just speechless and so blessed.”