Oh, so very close: MC men fall 81-78 to No. 3-ranked Wooster

A titanic matchup between two elite Division III college basketball teams lived up to the hype Wednesday as it was No. 3 Wooster which edged No. 23 Marietta College 81-78 at Ban Johnson Arena.

Garrett Stephenson opened the scoring with a basket early. Tyler Hammond then assisted Brennan McKean on a 3-pointer to put the Pioneers up 5-2, but Doug Thorpe responded with a trey of his own to knot the score.

Xavier Brown followed with a 3 of his own to make it 8-5, but back-to-back Marietta buckets by RaNeal Ewing and Keith Richardson put the Pios back on top at 9-8.

Wooster would go up 12-9 before an Andy Stegman 3-ball tied it. Richardson found Stegman open on the wing for the assist.

Thorpe put the Fighting Scots ahead with five straight points before a 3-pointer by Luis Garcia cut it to 17-15.

Down 21-17, Garcia converted a 4-point play to tie things up. Later, a bucket by Brown put Wooster up by four at 25-21, but a bucket by Stephenson and a 3 by Andy Dollman gave Marietta a 1-point lead.

The two teams continued to trade blows until Kenny DeBoer’s basket wth 1:47 remaining put Wooster up 39-33, its largest lead of the half. Marietta quickly answered, as a layups by McKean and Garcia cut it to a 2-point game. Thorpe had a wide open mid-range jumper on the final possession of the half, but missed. Two Wooster players had attempts at put-backs, but both failed as it remained a 2-point game at halftime.

Brown and Thorpe did the majority of the work for Wooster in the first 20 minutes, going 8-for-14 from the floor, 8-for-8 at the foul line and combining for 28 of the Fighting Scots’ 39 points.

Garcia’s 11 points in the opening half paced MC.

The Pioneers came out on fire in the second half. Hammond found Stephenson open on the baseline for a mid-range jumper, and after a missed 3 by Thorpe, Hammond hit Dollman on the right wing for a deep 3 to give Marietta a 42-39 advantage.

Following a timeout, Wooster quickly rebounded and reeled off nine straight points to go back on top 48-42. Thorpe assisted Brown on a 3-pointer before a dunk by Dan Fanelly and back-to-back layups by Thorpe and Brown prompted a Marietta timeout.

On Marietta’s next possession, Hammond hit a nice, off-balance jumper off the glass. Stephenson drained a J before a pair of foul shots by Hammond tied it up at 48-all.

Layups by Scott Purcell and DeBoer put Wooster up 52-48 before a corner 3 by McKean cut the lead to one. A put-back basket by Jalen Goodwin and a free throw from DeBoer made it 55-51. Down 59-54 at the 11:18 mark, a pair of freebies from Richardson made it 59-56, but Kipfer responded with a basket to bring it back to a 5-point game.

Hammond then swished a 3 before trading buckets with Kipfer. After another basket by Kipfer, Hammond responded with a free throw to make it 65-62.

With seven minutes remaining, Hammond put in a basket off the glass before two free throws by McKean put Marietta up 66-65. Wooster scored the next four points to go back on top by three, but consecutive jumpers by Hammond and Dollman gave MC the back at 70-69.

Up 72-71 with just under three minutes to go, Thorpe got a wide open look behind the arch and sank it to give Wooster a 2-point lead.

A Dollman layup and a Davis free throw gave MC the lead back, but a 3-point play by Fanelly put the Fighting Scots up 77-75 with 1:06 remaining in the game.

On Marietta’s next possession, an offensive foul on Stephenson negated a layup by Dollman that would have tied it. Wooster took advantage, as DeBoer drove and hit a layup with 19 seconds remaining to make it a two possession game at 79-75.

Dollman knocked down a 3-pointer to make it a 1-point game with eight seconds left, but Thorpe drew the foul on the inbound pass and sank both foul shots. Needing a 3 with 7.3 left, Hammond passed it to Stephenson on the wing but his shot was blocked by Fanelly with 1.4 remaining. On the ensuing inbound, Hammond threw a cross-court pass to A.J. Davis, who threw up a bank shot that just missed.

Marietta outshot Wooster, hitting 49.1 percent (27-for-55) of its shots compared to Wooster’s 46 percent (29-for-63). However, the Fighting Scots held slight advantages in rebounding (34-32) and turnovers (15-11).

Thorpe and Brown led Wooster with 21 and 20 points, respectively. Hammond collected 17 markers to pace the Pioneers.

Wooster improved to 4-0 while Marietta fell to 4-1.