Richardson’s hustle helps Pioneers ‘roll’

If ever a play exemplified the Marietta College men’s basketball team, it was Keith Richardson’s hustle and steal just before the intermission on Saturday at Ban Johnson Arena.With the half winding down, Ohio Northern University — which trailed 50-41 at the time — rolled the ball inbounds.

The Polar Bears did this, trying to preserve time on the clock.

A lot teams, especially in the pros, do this all the time.

“Escorting” the rolling ball to about halfcourt was ONU guard Joey Hurless. Probably, though, what he hadn’t counted on was the alertness and quickness of Richardson defending on the play.

You could almost see Richardson’s eyes light up when he saw the rolling ball.

The next thing you knew, the 5-foot-9 junior was snatching ball before Hurless could pick it up, and dribbling to the basket for any easy layup.

Needless to say, the partisan, sold-out MC crowd of 1,407 fans, erupted.

Several seconds later, the halftime buzzer sounded, and the Pioneers walked off the court with an 11-point cushion.

The navy blue and white would ultimately go on to win the game, 100-85, and clinch its third straight Ohio Athletic Conference regular-season title outright.

“Our kids were dialed in today,” said MC head coach Jon VanderWal after the nets were cut down. “There was no way in heck that we were not going to win this game.”

Marietta College (21-4 overall, 16-2 OAC) is currently ranked No. 9 in the Top 25 poll.

The Pioneers are top-seeded and have the homecourt advantage in this week’s OAC Tournament.

“That’s huge,” VanderWal said. “I’d like to think that this would give us a home game in the national tournament.”

At stake will be a berth in the regional tournament.

At 8 p.m. Tuesday (Feb. 21), MC is scheduled to play eighth-seeded Heidelberg University (11-14, 7-11), a team it beat twice (94-72 and 103-90) during the regular season.

Before the men’s game, the Kole Vivian-coached and fourth-seeded Pioneer women will be hosting today’s No. 8 Capital at No. 5 Otterbein winner in an OAC Tournament tilt.

The Berg men are coached by former Marietta College assistant Andy Bucheit. He and VanderWal are close friends.

This winter, Marietta owns a perfect 12-0 record at the BanJo.

The Pioneers haven’t lost at home since dropping an 86-85 decision to Gwynedd Mercy in the opening round of the NCAA Division III Tournament on March 4, 2016.

MC is favored to advance to the D3 event. But of course anything is possible at tournament time, including an inbounded, rolling ball.

If there is, you can be certain that Richardson or one of the other Pioneers will be there to get it.

–Ron Johnston is a Marietta Times sports writer, and can be reached at (740)373-2121, x534, or at