OAC champions: Pioneers rally to beat Mount Union 80-76 in OT

Marietta College turned the tide with a monster run.

During second-half action, the Pioneer men’s basketball team erased a 20-point deficit by scoring 18 unanswered points en route to an 80-76 overtime triumph against the University of Mount Union in an Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament championship game at Ban Johnson Arena Saturday night.

“I think we’re the cardiac kids now,” said MC sharpshooter and OAC tourney honoree Jacob (J.O.) Owens, who scored 21 points. “Coach (Jon VanderWal) told us that we had a lot of time left, and we just stayed focused all game. We believed and we made plays and in the end we came out victorious.”

Marietta, 20-7, has now claimed two out of the last three OAC Tournament titles. With the win, the Pioneers received an automatic NCAA Division III berth, and will now face an opponent to be determined at a date, place and time to be announced today.

“Everybody just played their part finally in the second half, and it was just a great feeling to chip away,” said MC point and tournament MVP Tyler Hammond, who scored a game-high 23 points.

Marietta senior J.J. Martin added a double-double with 15 points and a game-high 15 rebounds. And, Jason Humphrey netted nine markers.

“We just don’t want to lose,” said Martin, the second-leading scorer in the OAC. “Even when we were down, we never stopped believing.”

Former Williamstown standout Matt Kiger led the Purple Raiders (13-15) with 17 points and eight caroms. Cody Dillon and T.J. Gillespie each had 16 markers, and Jarrett Ruffin tallied 13.

Nate Jacubec, Mount Union’s leading scorer on the season, went scoreless.

“Marietta just caught fire,” Kiger said. “They’ve been making big shots all year, and we knew it was going to come.”

It, being the Pioneer run – the 18-0 run.

Prior to the 11:42 mark of the second half, Mount Union was in control. The Purple Raiders, who never trailed and had a double-digit lead for most of the opening half, owned a 40-25 advantage at the intermission.

Early in the second half, Mount stretched its lead to 54-34 on Ruffin’s jumper at the 11:53 mark.

Marietta’s comeback started innocuously enough with Garrett Stephenson making a pair of free-throws. Tyler Worstell then converted one of two at the line, and Hammond followed with a couple of buckets to cut it to 54-41 at the 9:27 mark.

Owens got into the scoring act with a four-point play on a trey and bonus freebie, and all of a sudden Mount’s lead was only nine, 54-45.

After a Purple Raider timeout, Hammond drained a three, Humphrey made a free-throw, and Owens hit another triple. The Pioneers trailed only by two.

“If you’re going to come back from 20, you’ve got to do something amazing,” Martin said.

With 3:31 left on the game clock, Hammond’s four-point play gave the navy blue and white cagers their first lead of the championship tilt, 62-61.

Marietta led 66-64 until Griffin’s driving layup tied the score with 15 seconds remaining.

MC had an opportunity to win the two tics left on the clock, but Brennan McKean’s three-attempt was off the mark.

In overtime, Marietta never trailed, and had a seven-point lead twice (74-67 and 77-70). Owens had a triple, and Martin and Hammond each scored a deuce in the extra session. MC also converted seven freebies.

Mount Union cut it to 78-76 on Griffin’s three-point play, but that’s as close as the visitors from Alliance would get.

“Somehow we just find a way to make things happen,” VanderWal said. “Our kids are awfully resilient, and I’m really proud of them.”

Said Mount Union head coach Mike Fuline, “Give them (Marietta) a ton of credit. They are a team with a lot of experience and it showed. I knew a run was coming and we just couldn’t withstand it.”