MARIETTA - Marietta College men's basketball history was made at sold out, standing room only Ban Johnson Arena Saturday night.
The No. 13 nationally ranked Pioneers claimed their first-ever Ohio Athletic Conference tournament championship by rallying in the second half to defeat visiting John Carroll University, 88-85.
Trailing 49-28 at halftime, MC (25-3) outpointed the Blue Streaks (19-9) after the break, 60-36. The Pioneers will now receive an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament, which is scheduled to tip off either next Friday or Saturday.
Final moments of OAC championship
"We've been only down at half maybe a couple times this year," said Marietta head coach Jon VanderWal, whose Pioneers were down by 22 points (47-25) with 41 seconds left before the intermission. "Usually, we're up at half. But I just told our guys to hang tough.
"I really felt that John Carroll out-toughed us in the first half. They were more aggressive and took it to us. So, I told our guys at halftime that I didn't care if we won or lost the game, but that we had to play a lot tougher in the second half. Against a team like this, you can get back in the game, because it's such a fast-paced game."
Sparking MC's second-half comeback was tournament MVP Trevor Halter, who scored 19 of his team-high 21 points after the break. His three with four seconds remaining in the contest proved to be the game-winner.
Photo courtesy of Larry Kave
The Marietta College Pioneers celebrate winning the program’s first Ohio Athletic Conference championship. The Pioneers defeated John Carroll, 88-85, Saturday night.
"It wasn't supposed to be that way (a three)," said Halter of his clutch triple. "We were supposed to get me going to the hoop, but I saw time winding down, so I shot it and fortunately it went in."
Marietta's Jason Humphrey added 15 points and all-tourney honoree Kevin Knab chipped in with 15 before fouling out with 1:19 left in the game. Non-starter Joe Puch netted 10 markers.
John Carroll was paced by Mark Hester, who tallied a game-high 24 points. All-tourney pick Maurice Haynes added 20 points, and all-tourney selection Corey Shontz had 14.
"Haynes is a load down low and a senior, who was playing for his life," Knab said. "That was his last game, and he's a heckuva player. I'm going to kind of miss playing against him - somewhat."
Led by Haynes and Hester, who scored 14 and 11 points, respectively in the first half, JCU shot a sizzling 61.1 percent from the field during the opening 20 minutes of play. During one stretch, the Streaks had a 9-0 run on triples by Shontz, Michael Hartnett and Hester to make it 33-20.
Marietta came out firing on all cylinders in the second half, and early on scored 13 unanswered points to reduce the deficit to 56-50. During that run, Knab had four points; and Jacob Owens J.J. Martin and Halter, three apiece.
Still whittling away, MC caught JCU and led briefly 71-70 on Conner Kilpatrick's bucket at the 5:21 mark. The Blue Streaks regained the advantage, though, on Shontz's three.
With 49 seconds left in the game, Tyler Worstell drained a clutch three to give the Pioneers their second lead of the half, 85-83. But that, too, was shortlived as Hester's layup tied the score.
After Halter's late-game triple gave Marietta a three-point lead, Shontz attempted a desperation three, which fell short as time expired.
"We just wanted to win the championship so bad for the town and all of Pioneer nation," Knab said. "The crowd really pulled us through."