The red-hot Clark College men’s basketball team was put in deep freeze Monday by the Tacoma Titans at O’Connell Sports Center.
Clark, which entered the crucial league contest with a 19-1 record and a nine-game winning streak, shot 31.6 percent from the field in the second half of a 74-71 loss.
Not that the Penguins — who last week ascended to No. 1 in the NWAACC rankings — were blaming their shooting woes for the loss.
“We’ve had those nights before,” said Austin Bragg, who finished with 15 points and a game-high 14 rebounds. “But we’ve usually made up for it on the defensive end.”
That did not work against Tacoma.
“We didn’t stop the ball penetration very well at all,” Clark coach Mike Arnold said. “We lost the ball game because we lost the point of attack.”
Mark McLaughlin scored 18 of his game-high 27 points in the second half for the Titans, including 14 during a seven-minute stretch through the middle of the second half.
That run helped Tacoma build a 13-point lead that set the stage for a stirring rally by Clark.
“We’re always confident,” Penguins center Blake Bowen said. “We never think we’re out of a game.”
A three-point play by Derek Owens with 4:34 remaining capped an 18-5 run by the Penguins and tied the score at 62.
But Tacoma quickly surged ahead again, and Clark finally ran out of opportunities when a 3-point attempt came up short in the final seconds.
Clark had four players finish in double figures. Owens led the way with 18 points, followed by Bragg’s 15, Bowen’s 14, and Lucas Swanson’s 11. Tacoma had McLaughlin’s 27 points and got 23 from Dominique Williams, who consistently confounded the Penguins with his dribble penetration.
Along the way, Tacoma avenged a 10-point loss to Clark in a Crossover Tournament in December.
“Our defense has gotten 100 percent better since then,” McLaughlin said.
The loss was the first in league play for the Penguins (19-2, 9-1), and it left them a half-game ahead of Tacoma (16-4, 8-1) in the West Division of the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges.
“If we had gotten this one, we would have a two-game spread,” Arnold said. “Now you’ve got a one-game spread and you still have to go up to their place.”
Instead, Clark faces a battle to end Tacoma’s supremacy in the division.
“Our program has a lot of pride,” Titans coach Carl Howell said. “We’ve won a lot of regional championships, and we’re not going to let it go easily.
“Clark has a great team. They’ve got a chance to win it all.”