VanderWal remembers Rock Island well

Marietta College back in Augustana for Sweet 16

Times file photo Marietta College’s Keith Richardson goes up with the ball during a college men’s basketball game at Ban Johnson Arena.

ROCK ISLAND, Ill. — Jon VanderWal remembers his last trip to Rock Island well.

The Marietta College head coach traveled with his team to Augustana College for the NCAA Division III Sweet 16 in 2015. The Pioneers defeated St. Olaf to advance to the Elite Eight, the deepest tournament run in program history, before getting blown out by the host Vikings 100-51 a game away from the Final Four.

Four years later, VanderWal and the Pioneers are headed back to Rock Island for another crack at a Final Four berth. They’ll take on Oswego State at 6:30 p.m. Friday. If they win, they’ll take on the winner between Augustana and Wheaton at 8 p.m. Saturday.

“The whole experience was kind of bittersweet, right?” VanderWal said, reflecting on the end of the 2014-15 season. “It was a neat accomplishment. To take that next step and make the Elite Eight was big for our program. Then it ended so ugly. It was a tough way to bow out of the tournament, but we’re excited to be back.”

Marietta, after a sluggish end to the regular season and Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament, breezed through the first two rounds of the national tourney. The Pioneers (22-6) defeated Maryville 101-77 and then Arcadia 88-76, but face a tougher test Friday.

Oswego State (24-5) took down Salem State 72-59 in the first round before surviving in overtime against Baldwin Wallace, 75-71.

The Lakers are led by Tyler Pierre, a 6-foot-6 center who averages 13.4 points and 9.1 rebounds per game, both team-highs. Fellow post player Joe Sullivan contributes 10.1 points and 7.6 boards per game. Brandan Gartland (13.0), Liam Sanborn (12.6) and Quinn Carey (11.1) all score in double figures as well, making for a very balanced attack.

“Their starting five is really strong,” VanderWal said. “Their point guard (Sanborn) does a great job creating plays for himself and for others. Their wing players are 6-3 and 6-4. They have a couple really good post guys. (Pierre) shoots 68 percent from the floor.”

VanderWal is confident in his starting five as well, but also feels his team will have an advantage in depth.

“They’re really only comfortable bringing two guys off the bench,” he said, “whereas I feel like we’re really deep. It’s kind of a clash of two different styles. They like to slow the game down while we like to play fast. We’ll see who can impose their will.”

Marietta went 12-deep in the Arcadia victory, starting Lukas Isaly at point guard, Mel Shuler and Kyle Dixon at the wings, and Caleb Hoyng and Tim Kreeger in the post. Anthony Wallace and Keith Richardson, two of Marietta’s top playmakers, come off the bench along with Jason Ellis, Mike Hall, Kyle Matsozkia, Mason Lydic and Christian James.

If Marietta can force Oswego State into an uptempo contest, it could force the Lakers to wear down and go deeper into their bench than head coach Jason Leone would like.

Another big factor to keep an eye on is rebounding. Both Marietta and Oswego State have dominated the glass in their first two tournament games. The Lakers held a 46-31 rebound advantage over Baldwin Wallace while the Pios were plus-38 in the rebounding column against Maryville and Arcadia combined. Expect an all-out war on the boards.

“It’s going to be huge,” VanderWal said. “Before the season started, we talked to the guys about the importance of rebounding. We said the better you are at rebounding, the further we’ll make it (in the tournament). If you look at us and Oswego State, we’re here because we dominated in rebounding. It will come down to who’s better on the glass.”