Marietta College head coach Jon VanderWal was very impressed with his team's showing at Wilmington Saturday.
It goes down as a pivotal 78-76 win over a tough Ohio Athletic Conference opponent for the Pioneers, but there was much, much more to it than that.
"I couldn't be prouder of our guys for giving Wilmington their first home loss of the year," VanderWal said. "To take a three hour bus ride, through a snowstorm, without two of our point guards, and go in there and get a win, I was just really, really proud of our guys.
JORDAN HOLLAND The Marietta Times
Marietta College’s Luis Garcia (24) makes a layup during a college baskeball game against Muskingum earlier this season.
"I think we have a deep team."
With top scorer Andy Dollman likely out for the season with a dislocated elbow, the Pioneers needed somebody to step up and produce some offense to keep up with the Quakers and standout Malcolm Heard.
Enter, Luis Garcia.
Garcia, a sophomore wing, came off the bench and provided 29 points to help lead Marietta to victory. VanderWal will look for Garcia to continue expanding his role in the absence of Dollman.
"Luis is a guy who is capable of doing that," VanderWal said of Garcia's big game. "He's been dealing with some nagging injuries and hasn't practiced a whole lot, which is why he hasn't started much. We've had to kind of watch his minutes."
With Dollman out, RaNeal Ewing becomes Marietta's leading scorer with 11.9 points per game. The Pioneers, though, have a handful of players capable of leading the team in scoring on any given night, as evidenced by Garcia's night Saturday. Garrett Stephenson, Brennan McKean, A.J. Davis and Eddy Grenert all average between 7-to-10 points per game. Keith Richardson has scored as many as 17 points in a game this season and is another guy who has taken on a larger role with Dollman and Tyler Hammond out.
Marietta consistently puts five players on the floor who are capable of racking up points, which is why visiting Otterbein will have its hands full tonight at 7:30 when it visits Ban Johnson Arena.
The Cardinals are just 4-13 overall and 3-7 in the OAC this season, but don't expect Marietta (13-4, 8-2) to take them lightly.
"Our guys understand that there are no gimmes in this league," VanderWal said.
Last season, Marietta routed Otterbein 90-62 at BJA in an early-season meeting. Later in the year when the Pios visited the Cardinals, they suffered 72-62 defeat, so VanderWal knows anything can happen.
"Hopefully we've learned our lesson," he said.
Otterbein will come in led by a pair of talented young guards in Jake Bischoff and Zanesville-product Jake Phillis.
"Jake Bischoff is a really talented 6-foot-3 guard who can really get it going," VanderWal said. "He will be the focal point of our defensive gameplan.
"Jake Phillis is a freshman who has come on for (Otterbein) recently. We shut him down at their place (four points, 2-for-10 shooting) but he recently scored 30 (10-for-13 shooting) against Heidelberg."
Marshall Crum, Andy Yazrombek and Grant Fenner are the other probable starters for Otterbein with Matt Rhodes coming off the bench first.
The Pioneers go into the game as the clear favorites, but that doesn't mean much after tip-off.
"We're the better team, there is zero doubt in my mind," VanderWal said. "But we have to go out and prove it on the court."