In their first NCAA tournament basketball game in 36 years, the Marietta College Pioneers built a big lead and then held off a furious second-half charge to down the Centre Colonels, 67-62.
In front of another standing room only crowd at Ban Johnson Arena, the Pioneers used a balanced attack and a deep bench to wear down the Colonels.
Marietta College freshman point guard Tyler Hammond got things going with a driving bucket to get the Pios on the board first.
After each team traded points to even the score at 4-4, Jacob Owens connected on a long three and put MC up 7-4.
Colonel forward Greg Ross had a strong first half scoring six of the first eight points by Centre, including a jumper that tied the game back up at 8-8.
When Pioneer head coach Jon VanderWal looks for offense off of his bench he looks no further than 6-foot-4 sophomore J.J. Martin.
Martin entered the game and promptly nailed a three- pointer and the Pioneer lead was five at 13-8.
Centre was ice cold from long range, missing all eight of its first half three-point attempts, but were still able to hang with MC cutting the lead to 17-16 on a pair of free-throws by Kyle Binder.
The rest of the first half was all Marietta as eight points by Trevor Halter sparked a 16-4 run and sent the Pioneers to the intermission with a 33-20 advantage.
Marietta 67, Centre 62
Centre 20 42 - 62
Marietta 33 34 - 67
CENTRE: Donovan Whiteside 7-12 2-2 18; Greg Ross 7-13 1-1 15; Jeff Mullaney 3-15 6-7 14; Bryon Ellis 2-6 0-0 6; Alex Lloyd 2-5 1-2 5; Kyle Binder 1-3 2-2 4; Taylor Newsome 0-1 0-0 0; Collin Lopez 0-1 0-0 0; Matt Griggs 0-0 0-0 0. Team 22-56 12-14 62; 3pt goals 6 (Ellis 2, Mullaney 2, Whiteside 2).
MARIETTA: Kevin Knab 6-11 3-6 15; Trevor Halter 7-10 1-2 15; Tyler Hammond 4-7 6-6 15; J. J. Martin 4-10 2-2 11; Jason Humphrey 2-4 0-0 4; Jacob Owens 1-2 0-0 3; Conner Kilpatrick 1-2 0-0 2; Tyler Worstell 1-4 0-0 2; Joe Puch 0-0 0-2 0; Brian Crader 0-2 0-0 0. Team 26-52 12-18 67; 3pt goals 3 (Hammonds, Owens, Martin).
Centre: Shooting 22-56 (39 percent); 3pt shooting 6-18 (33 percent); Rebounds 31 (Lloyd 10); Assists 11 (Mullaney 5); Steals 2 (Ellis, Mullaney); Turnovers 9; Blocks 3 (Lloyd 3); Total fouls 16; Fouled out: Ross.
Marietta: Shooting 26-52 (50 percent); 3pt shooting 3-11 (27 percent); Rebounds 32 (Knab 5, Halter 5); Assists 7 (Halter 2, Hammond 2, Worstell 2): Steals 5 (Halter 2); Turnovers 7; Blocks 3 (Hammond 2); Total fouls: 15; Fouled out: none.
After witnessing his squad come back from a 21-point halftime deficit to John Carroll last Saturday night, Vanderwal fully well expected the Colonels to make a second half run.
"I knew at halftime, even though we were up by 13, that we were in for a battle," said the fourth-year Pioneer head coach. "They have been here five straight years (the NCAA Tourney). I knew they were going to come at us the way they did."
VanderWal was right as after Halter's quick score put the Pios up to their biggest lead of the night (15), the Colonels were poised to make their run.
Freshman guard Donovan Whiteside sparked the rally, scoring eight points in a 16-6 Centre run that closed the MC lead to 39-36 with 13:15 to play.
"I felt Whiteside was brilliant tonight." said Centre head coach Greg Mason of his freshman standout.
Pioneer junior Kevin Knab, who was held to only three points in the first half, went strong to the basket with his left hand and after a Tyler Worstell steal and a score by Martin, Marietta was back up by seven at 43-36.
The Colonels fought right back and closed the lead to 43-41 on a Whiteside score.
With a little more than nine minutes to play, Centre briefly lost its composure and were assessed a pair of technical fouls one on Ross and one on guard Jeff Mullaney.
The Pioneers were only able to convert on two of the four freebies and another score by Whiteside reduced the deficit to two at 47-45.
Halter and Knab have been the "Go-to-Guys" for the Pioneers all year long and a driving three-point play by Knab was huge pushing the Pioneer advantage to seven at 54-47 and igniting the sell-out crowd.
Eight Pioneers played at least 15 minutes on the night and Marietta appeared much fresher down the stretch.
The Colonels had one brief run left and closed to 55-51 with two minutes to play, but a beautiful kick-out from Knab to Hammond resulted in a three ball that stretched the lead to seven and put the game out of reach for good.
"Tyler being able to make that three-pointer in the corner was a huge shot," said VanderWal.
Centre would get no closer than four the rest of the way and Marietta College will now advance to the second round for the first time since the 1974-75 team.
Hammond, Halter and Knab each contributed 15 points apiece to pace the Pioneers.
Martin chipped in with 11 off the bench.
"Thats what we've been doing all year," said Knab, "I feel we have seven or eight guys that can go for 15 to 20 points a game."
Whiteside led the colonels with 18, 16 coming in the second half, while Ross and Mullaney notched 15 and 14 points, respectively.
The Pioneers turned the ball over only seven times on the evening, largely due to the play of point guards Worstell and Hammond.
"We have to take care of the ball," said Hammond. "We set our goal to keep it under 14, so we did well tonight."
The Pioneers will now advance to the second round and go up against the team that ironically ousted them from the OAC tournament thirty-plus years ago, as they will battle the Wittenberg Tigers.
"Wittenberg is really good, they have some really good low post guys and probably shoot a little better than Centre," said VanderWal. "We won't get much sleep tonight."
Saturday night's tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.