Pios hoping to ‘White Out’ Polar Bears

MC men can clinch OAC with win

Photo courtesy of Nate Knobel Marietta College’s Dillon Young (1) goes up for a basket during a college men’s basketball game against Muskingum Wednesday at Ban Johnson Arena.

While going for their 12th win in a row, the Marietta College Pioneers are focused on a different number — one.

Marietta can clinch the No. 1 seed and homecourt advantage in next week’s Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament with a win over Ohio Northern, which visits Ban Johnson Arena at 3 p.m. Saturday.

The Polar Bears (16-8, 14-3 OAC) are the last team to beat Marietta (20-4, 15-2). The Pioneers visited Ada on Jan. 7 and lost 101-91. Since, MC has won 11 in a row and risen to No. 9 in the Division III national rankings. Pioneers head coach Jon VanderWal said the team has figured out some things since that loss.

“That was right around when (senior post player) Jack Thome got hurt,” VanderWal said. “We had to adjust our lineup and play a little different. I think we played them when we were still getting things figured out with our lineup. We’ve just gotten better ever since.”

Offensively, Marietta has scored at least 94 points in six of its last seven games. Five players are averaging double figures in scoring, led by senior All-American A.J. Edwards (18.9 points per game). Second on the team is Keith Richardson (15.2), followed by Anthony Wallace (13.5), Dillon Young (10.8) and Kyle Dixon (10.1). VanderWal has been using a nine-man rotation recently, with RaNeal Ewing (8.6), Thome (7.3), Caleb Hoyng (4.0) and Mel Shuler (3.6) coming off the bench.

Usually their depth gives the Pioneers a tremendous advantage over their opponents, but Ohio Northern actually matches up very well.

The Polar Bears had five players score in double figures when they defeated Marietta, including three players with 19 points.

“They shot 59 percent from the field,” VanderWal recalled. “They just outplayed us that day. That’s what we’re hoping to do to them this time around.”

Devon Allen is ONU’s top scorer with 15.9 points per game, followed by Konnor Baker (13.8), Nate Burger (13.3), Ryan Bruns (12.2), Aron Thress (10.5) and Joey DiOrio (8.3). Joey Hurless is one of the OAC’s top passers with 5.9 assists per contest.

“We’re two very similar teams,” VanderWal said. “They’ve got a couple really good post guys guys, and they surround the post guys with guys who can really shoot it. It’s tough to gameplan for them because they have so many weapons. I feel like I’m gameplanning for ourselves. It’s going to come down to executes their stuff the best.”

It raised the question, how would VanderWal gameplan for his own team, or one just like it?

“It becomes kind of basic,” he said. “You just have to be great. Be great at fundamentals, play great team defense and execute our principles better than we have all year. Just be great in all facets.”

While Pioneer games almost always provide an intense atmosphere, fans are hoping to turn it up a notch Saturday. The theme will be a “White Out” and those attending are encouraged to wear white. While a win Saturday would give Marietta the No. 1 seed in the conference tourney, a loss would give them the 3-seed and they potenitally would have to play on the road in the OAC Semifinal and Championship game. With so much at stake, they’re hoping for maximum support from their fans.

“We all understand that winning this game gives us a lot better chance at winning that tournament,” VanderWal said. “Plus, we want to win (the OAC regular season title) outright. We don’t want to share it with anybody.”