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Pioneers couldn’t turn off scoring machine

Marietta College got beat by one player.

That shouldn’t happen. I mean, basketball is a team game.

But after the Pioneers dropped a 91-87 decision to Wheaton (Ill.) College in front of 359 spectators Saturday night in an NCAA Division III men’s basketball sectional final at the Carver PT Center in Rock Island, Ill., it was as plain as day that Thunder senior sharpshooter Aston Francis – who tallied a record-setting 62 points and also grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds -was a one-man wrecking crew on the hardwood.

The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Francis was literally a scoring machine that the MC defense couldn’t turn off.

Wheaton only had one other double-digit scorer (12 points) in non-starter Luke Anthony, a Division I transfer from the University of Dayton.

Just for fun and to put it into perspective, superstar LeBron James, who never played college ball, scored an NBA career-high 61 points against the Charlotte Bobcats as a member of the Miami Heat five years ago. As a prep player, he netted a career-high 52 against L.A. Westchester (Calif.) when he was a senior at St. Vincent-St. Mary in Akron.

Well, Francis, of course, is no LeBron James, but there’s no question he put up James-like numbers in the scorebook.

Marietta’s 6-4 senior Kyle Dixon did a creditable job of defending Francis without a whole lot of help in the second half. When the Pioneers did try to trap Francis, the Thunder cager often found the open man.

Thing is, Francis cooled off a little bit early in the second half, and MC – which led 45-43 at the intermission – was able to stretch its advantage into double digits.

Problem was, though, the Pioneers were unable to protect that lead, and, well, you all know the rest of the story. Francis got hot again when it counted at crunch time, and Wheaton eked out a win and a trip to the Final Four this weekend in Fort Wayne, Ind.

That could’ve and should’ve been Marietta College.

As I was viewing the game on my PC, one overriding thought occurred to me: Who is this guy Francis, and why is he competing at the D3 level and not for Duke or Kentucky or some other D1 school like that?

Turns out, Francis played his high school ball in Tyler, Tx., which begs the question of how does a Lone Star State cager of his caliber end up in Illinois?

Well, according to his bio, he was a late bloomer, who starred on the prep hardwood when he was a junior and senior. Back then, his dad was the school’s head coach and AD.

Long story short, Wheaton boss Mike Schauer was recruiting one of Francis’s crosstown rival opponents and liked what he saw when both played each other.

Thing is, Francis originally decided to enroll at Texas A&M to study and not play hoops. But, apparently, he changed his mind and decided to play ball at Tyler Junor College.

Meanwhile, Schauer kept on recruiting him. It’s nice to be wanted, and so that’s basically why he went to Wheaton. Give Schauer a lot of credit.

Not surprisingly, Francis has pro aspirations.

Come to think of it, he could probably help LeBron’s Los Angeles Lakers right now.

Ron Johnston is a Marietta Times sports writer, and can be reached at rjohnston@mariettatimes.com

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