College basketball: Pioneer men win opener

The Marietta College men’s basketball team went into the halftime of its season-opener up 54-38 over Ohio Christian University at Ban Johnson Arena Friday night in the opening game of the 43rd annual Shrine Tournament.

The Pioneers needed every ounce of that 16-point lead in the second half, as the Trailblazers came roaring back and outscored Marietta 45-30 to make it a one-point game with time running out.

Ohio Christian got the ball with under 10 seconds left, but Lawrence Parsons’ mid-range jumper at the buzzer hit off the front iron to give Marietta the 84-83 victory.

“I couldn’t have been more happy with the first half,” said MC head coach Jon VanderWal. “The first half is exactly what we want Marietta basketball to look like.”

VanderWal was less thrilled about how things transpired in the second half.

“We didn’t come out of halftime the way we needed to,” he said. “We let them get a little momentum going.”

Marietta was up 70-53 at the 14:18 mark in the second half only to see the Trailblazers go on a 19-7 run, fueled by Wesley Russell’s 11 points, to cut it to 77-72.

Marietta’s A.J. Davis put in a layup, but Russell, who had a game-high 25 points, answered quickly with a jumper. After Marietta’s Garrett Stephenson responded with a jump-shot of his own, Ohio Christian scored seven unanswered to tie the game at 81-all with 1:56 remaining.

On the ensuing play for the Pios, point guard Tyler Hammond drove hard at the basket and found a wide open Andy Dollman beyond the arch. Dollman attempted a 3-pointer from the wing and hit nothing but net to put MC up 84-81. Russell would go on to hit a pair of free throws to make it a 1-point game, but the Trailblazers managed zero points on their final two possessions to fall to 2-4 on the year. Marietta improved to 1-0.

“Dollman hit a big 3 here,” VanderWal said. “If we don’t hit that one, I think we’re toast.”

VanderWal said the Pioneers “made just enough plays” and the Trailblazers “just ran out of time.”

“They were the more aggressive team,” VanderWal said of the Tony Stockman-coached Trailblazers.

“We’re happy about the win, we’re just not happy with the way we went about getting it.”

VanderWal pointed out that the Pioneers “got killed on the glass,” as Ohio Christian grabbed 42 rebounds in the contest to just 23 for Marietta.

The Pios did, however, take better care of the ball, committing just six turnovers to OCU’s 15.

The Pioneers made 33-of-64 (51.6 percent) shot attempts overall and 11-of-23 (47.8 percent) from beyond the 3-point line. The Blazers were 29-for-58 (50 percent) from the floor and 10-for-28 (35.7 percent) from 3.

After going down 7-5 quickly to start the game, Marietta used a 14-4 run to get on top 19-11. 3-pointers by A.J. Davis and Dollman led the run.

Ohio Christian would cut it to 31-29 before Marietta got five 2-point baskets from five different players to extend the lead to 41-33.

Dollman and Andy Stegman hit back-to-back layups followed a jumper by Hammond, a layup by RaNeal Ewing and a basket by Luis Garcia.

11 players scored in the contest for Marietta. Five reached double-figures.

“I think we could have 12 different leading scorers,” VanderWal said of the team’s depth. “I don’t know who’s gonna play great each night. I think that’s a good thing because the other teams can’t really key on one guy. I think we had some guys that could have played a little better, but that’s the great thing about being deep. If some guys aren’t playing their best, other guys step up. Hopefully that’s our M.O. this year.”

3-pointers by Ewing and Garcia made it a 47-35 game, and after a pair of free throws by A.J. Edwards, Ewing put the exclamation point on the half with a 3-pointer and then a slam dunk on a fast-break to stretch Marietta’s lead to 16 points at the break.

Davis led Marietta with 14 points. Dollman had 13, McKean and Ewing 12 and Hammond added 11. Hammond led the team in assists with 10 and also had four boards. Stegman had a team-high five rebounds.

After Russell’s 25, JJ Smith added 15 and Nic Baker had 14 for the Trailblazers. Smith notched a game-high 10 rebounds. Russell had nine assists and seven boards to go with his 25 points.

The Pioneers will be right back in action tonight in the Shrine Tournament championship game against Piedmont, which defeated Earlham 66-61 Friday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.

“It’s great to be able to learn from a win instead of having to learn from a loss,” VanderWal said. “We’re excited about that. We’re just gonna have to play better (tonight).”