Worcester, MA --- Zach Karalis (North Andover, MA) poured in a career-best 25 points to help the WPI men's basketball team claim a share of its eighth NEWMAC regular season crown in the last 10 years as the Engineers went down Park Ave. and defeated crosstown rival Clark 66-51 in the regular season finale for both squads.
With the win, WPI (23-2, 10-2 NEWMAC) claims the top seed in next week's NEWMAC Tournament due to the third tiebreaker - record versus common opponents outside the conference. WPI and MIT split its two regular season meetings and each split with No. 3 seed Springfield while sweeping the other four conference schools. WPI amassed a record of 3-0 against the common group of Curry, Rhode Island College and Salem State while MIT was 1-2 against the trio. It will mark the eighth time in the last 10 years that WPI has nabbed the conference's top seed and the right to host the tournament semifinals and championship.
Clark (12-13, 6-6 NEWMAC) will open the NEWMAC Tournament Wednesday, hosting fifth-seeded Babson in a 7pm quarterfinal contest. The winner of that game will play WPI in the semifinals on Saturday at 1pm while MIT and Springfield will tangle in the other semifinal at 3pm.
Clark took its biggest lead of the game at 45-38 on a DJ Bailey (Palmer, MA) layup with just over eight minutes remaining before the Engineers turned to their defense and quick hitting offense to gain control. The Crimson and Gray did not allow a Clark field goal attempt on five straight possessions as the guests rattled off 12 straight points over a 2:06 span. After a pair of Sam Longwell (Acton, MA) free throws, Marco Coppola (Watertown, MA) converted a steal into a conventional 3-point play. A steal on the ensuing possession by Aaron Davis (Marshfield, MA) led to a string of seven straight points by Ryan Kolb (Southington) including a layup, a pair of free throws and a traditional 3-point play to give WPI a 50-45 advantage with 5:48 left.
The guests continued to apply the defensive pressure and allowed just one more Clark field goal until the waning seconds.
Karalis reached his career-high by canning 6-of-13 shots from the field, including 6-of-9 trifectas. Kolb was a rebound short of a double-double, amassing 16 points and nine board while Coppola filled the stat sheets with 13 points, seven assists, six rebounds, two steals and a block.
Bailey, Marcus Armstrong (Malden, MA) and Travis Curley (Trumbull, CT) each notched 10 points in their final regular season home contest. Brian Vayda (Sturbridge, MA) was a beast on the glass, hauling in a season-best-equaling 14 rebounds as the Cougars held a 47-39 edge on boards. He also joined Tyler Veretto (South Windsor, CT) with seven points.
WPI led 15-8 midway through the first half but Clark scored 15 of the next 18 points to turn a seven point deficit into a five point advantage at 23-18 with just under two remaining in the opening stanza. The lead looked to be six headed into the locker room but Karalis drained his third 3-pointer of the half for WPI in the waning seconds to make it 27-24. Curley was the difference for the Cougars in the first 20 minutes, as the grad student tallied nine points off the bench.