Hoops showdown: No. 23 Marietta hosts No. 3 Wooster tonight

A battle of NCAA Division III nationally-ranked basketball teams will take place at Ban Johnson Arena tonight at 7:30 p.m. when No. 23 Marietta College hosts No. 3 Wooster in what Pioneers head coach Jon VanderWal called a battle of “two really quality Division III basketball teams.”

The Fighting Scots began the 2013-14 season ranked eighth in the country but have jumped to third after winning their first three games against tough opponents.

After rolling past Oberlin 77-58 in its season-opener, Wooster has dispatched Ohio Athletic Conference preseason favorite Baldwin Wallace and No. 5 Wheaton by nine total points.

Senior guard Doug Thorpe and junior guard Xavier Brown have formed an effective 1-2 scoring punch through three games this season, averaging 17.7 and 17 points per contest, respectively. No other Fighting Scot has averaged double figures.

VanderWal hopes to limit what Thorpe and Brown are able to do offensively.

“They are two of the elite guards in all of Division III,” VanderWal said. “They’re what makes (Wooster) go. We’ll definitely put a lot of focus on those two guys, but at the same time, we can’t let their role guys get going either.”

The Pioneers came into the season unranked, but started off hot and have moved into the top 25.

With five players averaging over nine points per game, Marietta will rely on its depth to upset the Fighting Scots. Leading the way for the Pioneers is senior point guard Tyler Hammond. Hammond is averaging 9.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game.

Junior post A.J. Davis is MC’s leading scorer averaging 13.8 points per outing to go along with 5.3 rebounds.

“A.J. is a perfect example of what hard work and dedication can get you,” VanderWal said. “A JV guy the last two years, he’s been one of our hardest workers, and he’s gotten a lot better.

“He’s a tough matchup. He’s a little like J.J. (Martin) in parts.”

Junior wings Brennan McKean (9.8 ppg) and Andy Dollman (9.5 ppg) and junior post Garrett Stephenson (6.0 ppg and 5.8 rpg) will round out the Pioneers’ starting lineup.

Off the bench, look for sophomore wing RaNeal Ewing to have an impact. Ewing is averaging 11.5 points per game while playing just 13.0 minutes per night.

Providing depth in the backcourt for Marietta will be sophomore wing Luis Garcia and freshman point guard Keith Richardson. In the post sophomore Eddy Grenert (8.3 ppg) and junior Andy Stegman (5.5 ppg) will see significant minutes.

Though it’s just the fifth game of the season for the Pioneers, a win tonight could do wonders in the long run.

“It puts us on the national scene a little more,” VanderWal explained. “It would help us in multiple ways. It would give us confidence going forward, and as far as regional rankings, this would be an astronomical win.”

NOTES: Tonight’s game is a benefit for Paisley Skinner. Skinner was born in May 2013. She suffered her first seizure at three months of age and was hospitalized at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus. Her condition deteriorated and she began having uncontrollable seizures. Weeks of testing provided no definitive answers as to the cause of Skinner’s condition. An MRI revealed a brain injury to the area of Skinner’s brain that can affect mobility, vision, language and much more. Currently, doctors have Skinner’s seizures under control with medications.

The Townhouse is hosting a pre-game happy hour and dinner from 4 -7 p.m. 20 percent of the proceeds during that time will be donated to the Skinner family.

There will be a silent auction in the Trustee Conference Room overlooking Ban Johnson Arena that starts at 6 p.m. and runs through halftime of the basketball game. Numerous local businesses have donated items and all money raised from the auction will be donated to the Skinner family. In addition to the pre-game dinner and auction, Marietta College is donating all gate proceeds to the Skinner family.

“This is an opportunity for the community to see two great basketball teams,” VanderWal said. “And, in addition to seeing two nationally ranked teams, fans can help us raise funds to support the Skinner family.”

Skinner is the daughter of former Pioneer Thad Skinner and his wife Ashley of Waterford.

-Jeff Schaly contributed to this story