Willimantic, Conn. – Brian Vayda (Sturbridge, Mass.) dropped in a three-pointer with less than five second remaining to lift Clark University to a thrilling 55-54 season-opening win over Bowdoin College in the second game of the 32nd annual Eastern Connecticut Tip-Off Tournament on Friday evening.
Vayda, who missed the final 20 games of the 2011-12 season with an injury, returned with a vengeance, registering a game-high 24 points and seven rebounds on an efficient 7-for-14 shooting from the field.
His game-winning triple capped a stretch in which he scored the final ten points of the game for Clark and was just the Cougars' seventh made basket of the half.
Clark led for most of the game, with the Polar Bears holding a brief one-point lead in the first and four point advantage in the second.
Vayda came out on the attack scoring 14 points in the first half, pushing Clark to a 33-28 lead at the break.
Things began to turn in Bowdoin's favor as the Cougars went cold, going more than five minutes without a basket.
Three key steals, however - one by John Karas (Glastonbury, Conn.) and two by Nicholas DaPrato (Marshfield, Mass.) – that were immediately converted into baskets kept Clark within striking distance.
The game was tied at 50-50 after Vayda split a pair of free throws, but Andrew Madlinger put in a short jumper to give the Polar Bears the lead again with a little more than a minute left.
On the next trip down the court for Clark, Vayda was fouled and he connected on two more from the charity stripe to knot the contest at 52-52 with 48 seconds remaining.
The Cougars forced a Bowdoin missed shot by Nick Lenker, but he was able to get his own rebound and the ball eventually found Marko Peraica who scored his only basket of the game with 22 seconds left, giving the Polar Bears the 54-52 edge.
Following a timeout, Travis Curley (Trumbull, Conn.) found Vayda for the game-winning shot with four seconds left.
Neither tem shot the ball well, with the Cougars making 33 percent of their attempts, while Bowdoin connected on just 36 percent of their tries.
Clark controlled the pain, outscoring the Polar Bears 24-16 and had a 14-4 edge in bench points. Much of the bench production came courtesy of DaPrato, who finished with eight points, four steals and three rebounds.
Madlinger led Bowdoin with 15 points, while Keegan Pieri just missed out on a double-double with 14 points and nine rebounds.
Clark (1-0) will return to action on Saturday when they face host Eastern Connecticut State in the championship game slated to begin at 3:00 p.m.