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Pioneers open NCAA Tournament play Friday

Photo by Ron Johnston Marietta College junior Jason Ellis, right, makes a move with the ball during a college men’s basketball game against Baldwin Wallace earlier this season at Ban Johnson Arena. The Pioneers are slated to take on New Jersey in the opening round of the NCAA Division III Tournament at 4 p.m. Friday at Randolph Macon College in Ashland, Va.

Marietta College may be playing with a chip on its shoulder when the NCAA Division III Championship Tournament tips off this week.

Why?

The Pioneer men’s basketball team (21-6) dropped out of the March 1 D3hoops.com Men’s Basketball Top 25 after it was defeated by John Carroll University, 86-79, in an Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament semifinal at Ban Johnson Arena Feb. 27.

Even so, MC still received an at-large bid to the NCAA tourney for the sixth straight year and are scheduled to play The College of New Jersey Lions in an opening-round tilt at Randolph Macon College in Ashland, Va., at 4 p.m. Friday.

“We don’t know much about TCNJ yet but we are studying hard,” said 13th-year Marietta coach Jon VanderWal. “We know if we win, we will most likely play Randolph Macon who is one of the best teams in the country.”

Randolph Macon (26-2), the Old Dominion Athletic Conference champion, was ranked No. 3 in the D3 poll. The Yellow Jackets are slated to play Wesley (18-9), the Atlantic East Conference winner, at 6:30 p.m. Friday.

“We will need to play great basketball this weekend,” VanderWal said.

And, it starts with trying to tame the Lions.

While Marietta College is a veteran of NCAA Tournament play, The College of New Jersey hasn’t appeared in the event since 1998. TCNJ clinched an automatic berth in the tourney with a 75-60 triumph over Stockton in the NJAC championship game. The title was Lions’ first in 22 years.

Going into NCAA play, The College of New Jersey has been on a roll with eight straight wins and 15 of its last 17.

The Matt Goldsmith-coached Lions are expected to start Randall Walko (21.5 points per game), Travis Jocelyn (17.1 ppg), Ryan Jensen (13.4 ppg, 7.9 rebounds per game), Mike Walley (7.4 ppg), and P.J. Ringel (5.9 ppg).

Marietta, meanwhile, has dropped two of its last three games.

Against the Blue Streaks (19-8), the Pioneers cut it to four late, coming back from a subpar first half and an early 25-point deficit in the second half. But JCU hung on to post the victory.

“We had our chances,” said VanderWal after the loss. “We’ve been a little bit inconsistent this year. And, we’ve got to figure out how to play 40 minutes against good teams.”

Against The College of New Jersey, the probable Pioneer starters will be Jason Ellis (16.1 ppg), Lukas Isaly (12.6 ppg), Tim Kreeger (12.4 ppg, 6.7 rpg)), Caleb Hoyng (9.1 ppg, 6.6 rpg), and Michael Hall (5.6 ppg).

Ellis, Isaly, and Kreeger are all recent OAC honorees.

The MC rotation is expected to feature Mason Lydic (8.7 ppg), Christian James (7.9 ppg), Jake Montgomery (3.8 ppg), Kyle Matoszkia (3.6 ppg), and Karson Snyder (2.7 ppg).

Ron Johnston can be reached at rjohnston@mariettatimes.com

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