As the playoffs loom, the Penguins are positioning themselves to secure back-to-back championships, becoming the first team to do so since 2010.
With one regular-season game left, the men’s basketball team is looking to clinch the No. 1 seed in the Southern region, giving them home court advantage in the first round of the NWAC playoffs.
The Penguins had a chance to seal the division on Wednesday night, but they fell to the Clackamas Cougars 116-114.
“We had the opportunity to win the division outright and to cut down a net,” said head coach Alex Kirk. “From a trash-talk standpoint we wanted to get the last word in, but we refused to make the tough plays to win.”
The game was a cut-throat battle with a total of eight lead changes and 10 ties. As the Cougars led the Penguins 83-72 with 11:36 left in the second half the crowd at the O’Connell Sports Center began weighing in.
Fans roared with frustration at the officials over technical fouls against the Penguins. The crowd jeered when they felt the referees missed traveling calls on Clackamas.
Chanting “DEFENSE, DEFENSE!” The fans grew louder and louder until the stadium boomed with the echoes of their voices. In five minutes, the Penguins scored 18 points to the Cougars’ seven, tying the score at 90-90 with 6:12 on the clock.
Forward Devon Hawkins was fouled at 5:16, and silence filled the air. Hawkins landed two more points for the Penguins and once again the stadium boomed with excitement.
Cougars forward Ryun Gibson immediately answered back with a slam dunk, tying the game again at 92-92.
With the game continuing neck-and-neck until the final moments, Penguins guard Bryan Berg landed a three-pointer with 1.9 seconds left, forcing the teams into overtime.
After a grueling battle, Cougars center Vince Boumann scored a floating two-pointer to snatch the victory at the buzzer.
Clark currently stands at No. 1 and Clackamas at No. 2 in the Southern region. But with the Penguins losing for the third time this season, the second to Clackamas, only seven percent separates their power-rankings.
That outcome could end up affecting the postseason lineup. Clackamas would take the No. 1 seed with a victory over Chemeketa Community College and a Penguins loss to Umpqua Community College on Saturday.
Freshman guard, Micah Paulson, said it was awesome seeing the big turnout of Penguin fans but said “it sucks disappointing them like that.” Paulson said he embraces opportunities for improvement, whether it’s from the coaches, or even the officials.
“If I get upset with the refs, what is that going to do to help me? It’s not going to help my team,” Paulson said.
Paulson said the sooner the team can move past any challenges they face during games, the faster they can bounce back and not let it affect them.
Berg said they need to learn from the loss and execute in the next game.
“We have to focus in on this next practice and take care of business on Saturday,” Berg said.
If Clark defeats Umpqua this Saturday, they will host Tacoma Community College in the O’Connell Sports Center in their first playoff game on March 5. In their preseason matchup, the Penguins defeated the Tacoma Titans 93-64.
If they claim the first playoff victory, Clark will advance to play the remaining playoff games in Everett on March 11, starting with the winner of North No. 2 vs. East No. 3.
After their own loss to Clackamas, the women’s team, 9-6, will fight for a playoff spot when they travel to Umpqua on Saturday as well.