Pioneers roll past Guilford to ‘Sweet 16’
Marietta College’s men’s basketball team advanced to the D3 NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 for the third time in the program’s history.
After winning an opening round game against Calvin College Friday night, the nationally seventh-ranked Pioneers did the same in the second round, beating No. 23 Gilford College, 88-64, at sold-out Ban Johnson Arena Saturday evening.
“Back-to-back nights is tough,” said 10th MC head coach Jon VanderWal. “Something that we pride ourselves on in this program is our preparation. Basically, our guys had an hour’s film session and an hour walk-through and shoot-around. Got to give our guys a lot of credit. I think it showed a lot in the first five minutes of the game. It looked like we were going to score just 40 points tonight.
“But once we settled into the game again, these guys started making some plays. I thought we defended again really, really well tonight. The kids played extremely hard and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Marietta (26-4) stayed undefeated at the BanJo this season with a 17-0 mark, and also extended its winning streak to 17. The Pioneers will play No. 13 Rochester Friday at a location to be determined.
“It’s real special,” said MC point Richardson. “We’re just happy to be back (in the Sweet 16).”
MC was led by Richardson and Anthony Wallace, who each scored 19 points. Richardson also dished out 10 assists.
Pioneer freshman Caleb Hoyng provided a boost off the bench with a career-high 14 points.
Senior All-American A.J. Edwards grabbed a game-high nine rebounds.
“Keith had it going tonight,” VanderWal said. “I thought he managed the game extremely well at both ends of the court. He did an amazing job. He was like a coach on the floor.
“Anthony’s had an incredible year, and Caleb stepped up huge. He played just three minutes Friday night.”
Hoyng was perfect from the field, going 5-for-5, including four threes.
“Caleb might not have been on Guilford’s scouting report,” VanderWal said. “I don’t know.”
Guilford exited tourney play with a 24-6 mark. The Quakers were led by Carson Long’s 15 points. Alston Thompson and Kyler Gregory chipped in with 12 and 10 markers, respectively.
“I’m proud of our guys,” said Guilford boss Tom Palombo. “We had a great year. I felt like we maximized what we had.
“Tonight we ran into a team that’s really good. And on this court with that crowd, every time they make a basket, it’s an avalanche.”
Long had the hot hand early, scoring six straight points, and at the 14:58 mark, the Quakers had a double-digit advantage, 13-3.
“We got off to a great start,” Palombo said. “We had a lot of energy and defensive intensity.”
Added Long, “I think Marietta may have been overlooking us a little bit.”
But then Marietta scored six unanswered points on buckets by Jack Thome and RaNeal Edwing and a couple of freebies by Edwards to cut it to 15-11.
Then, Wallace and Kyle Dixon each had a steal and score to cut it to two. That was followed by a Richardson jumper, which tied the game at 21-all at the 6:52 mark.
The Pioneers closed out the half with an 18-5 run, and led 39-26, going into the lockerroom. During the surge, Hoyng knocked down two threes.
“I don’t know if the tank was getting a little empty there during that stretch when they got that run (in the first half),” Palombo said. “The sloppiness for us on offense really ignited them to kind of get things going. Plus, the fact that they’re really good and they’re going to shoot it really well here. That makes it tough.”
Wallace had nine points, while Richards had eight markers and five assists in the opening half.
“I just love to get the ball to my bigs (Edwards and Thome) when I’m coming to the basket,” Richardson said. “If I can’t get it to them, get to some wing guy and take it to the hole. I just like to pass a lot.”
Added Wallace, “Keith always puts me in good situations to get what I want to get. When we’ve got spacing, anybody can penetrate.”
After the break, Marietta maintained a double-digit lead for the entire 20 minutes and won going away.
“We’ve got a pretty special group this year,” VanderWal said. “When we’re dialed in, especially the way that we’re defending, we’re pretty good. We’ve got to get better rebounding.”