It had been over five years since Wilmington had tasted victory against Marietta College on the hardwood.
The Quakers picked an ideal time to snap their 10-game losing streak to the Pioneers as they scored a 91-82, overtime victory at Ban Johnson Arena Thursday night to earn a berth in the Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament championship game Saturday afternoon.
Malcolm Herd II tossed in 22 of his 26 points in the second half to lead the third seeded Quakers to their fifth victory in their last six games.
Herd II was held in check for the first 28 minutes of the contest as the Pioneer defense limited the six-foot-five senior to just five points, before he finally began to warm up just in time to save the day for the K.C. Hunt-led Quakers.
A Pioneer three-ball by junior and Parkersburg High School graduate Andy Dollman had given the Pioneers a 63-58 lead with eight minutes to go in regulation but Herd II drilled a pair of triples in less than a minute to send the Quakers back in front.
Dollman and Luis Garcia each made one-of-two free throws to put the Pioneers back in front by a point and freshman Keith Richardson’s three-pointer extended the lead to four.
Once again Herd II had the answer as he scored on an inside bucket on an assist from Dwight Johnson before once again drilling a jumper from behind the arc to give Wilmington a 69-68 lead with 4:22 to play.
“He’s (Herd II) a great player, he’s the best player in the league,” said Pioneer head coach Jon VanderWal. “I thought we did a phenomenal job on him but he just got hot from three and that proved to be the difference in the game.”
Klarke Ransome’s basket extended the Wilmington lead to three but the Pioneer’s got a quick answer from Andy Stegman to cut the lead to 71-70 with 1:33 to play.
A short jumper from Herd II one again increased the lead to three but Dollman tied things up at 73-73 with a huge three-pointer.
Dollman had a huge game in just his third game back after suffering a painful elbow injury that cost him some seven games. “Andy’s a warrior, a real competitor who plays his tail off,” said VanderWal of Dollman, who led all scorers in the game. “Just back from a dislocated elbow and he drops 29 points in a semi-final game. He’s one of the best players in the league and hopefully he will have a great senior season next year.”
Both teams had their opportunity to win the game in regulation with Wilmington having the ball for the final 30 seconds but failing to get a shot off against a tough Pioneer defense.
Herd II opened the overtime period with his fourth triple of the game and after Marietta’s Eddy Grenert and Wilmington’s R.J. Leppert each sank a pair of freebies, the Quakers got a big boost from Johnson.
Johnson connected on a pair of three-balls, the last of which coming as the shot clock buzzer sounded to stretch the lead to 84-77 with just 38 seconds to play.
“They are a very good team and they are rolling right now,” said Vanderwal of his opponent. “They got a couple of open looks and they knocked them down. We got a couple of open looks and we didn’t. They just made the big plays and did a great job.”
Wilmington was gold at the free throw line in the game as they made 18-of-23 freebies, including six in a row down the stretch to put things away for good.
Herd II put an exclamation point on the win with a steal and a powerful two-handed dunk with only a few seconds on the clock.
Joining Herd II in double figures for WC were Leppert with 17 points, while Johnson and Ransome chipped in with 13 apiece.
Stegman joined Dollman in double figures with 12 while Luis Garcia added nine and Grenert and Garrett Stephenson chipped in with eight points apiece.
The news got even better for Wilmington (18-8) when they discovered that top seeded Ohio Northern had also lost on Thursday evening, meaning the Quakers will play host to John Carroll Saturday evening in the championship game.
Marietta College’s season comes to a close with another solid season as the Pio’s finish with a 19-7 mark.