MARIETTA -The Marietta College Pioneers broke open what was a very close basketball game with a dominating second half in an 89-66, non-conference victory over the Denison Big Reds Wednesday evening at Ban Johnson Arena.
The Pioneers (4-2) trailed by a single point at halftime and led by just two points at 57-55 with 12 minutes to play before exploding for a 32-9 finish.
"Our whole goal as a team is to try and wear people out," said Pioneer head coach John VanderWal, whose team goes at least 10 deep.
"We had some fresher legs and went on a big run there in the second half."
Pioneer senior forward J.J. Martin paced the Pioneer attack with 16 second-half points as the Pioneers shot a blistering 63 percent from the field to win going away.
It was Denison (3-4) who had the hot hand to start the game, and a 3-pointer from Briggs King with just over 10 minutes to play in the first half gave the Big Reds a double-digit lead at 24-14.
"I thought we were just awful on defense there in the first half," said VanderWal. "I had to get after them a little bit at halftime."
The Pioneers rallied back late in the opening half, putting together a 23-14 run to pull within one at 38-37.
A Jason Humphrey field goal followed by a Martin 3-pointerl got the second half off to a good start for the Pios, but the pesky Big Reds fought right back and a three-point play by Alex Longi tied the game at 46.
A bucket from Longi gave Denison the lead at 53-51 with just over 14 minutes to play in the half.
The Pioneers recaptured the lead on a long trey from senior guard Jacob Owens and seconds later freshman Luis Garcia connected from long range to swing the momentum in favor of Marietta College.
That momentum carried the Pioneers on what turned out to be an 18-2 run that turned the nailbiter into a blowout.
An old fashioned three-point play by Martin capped the run and handed the Pios a 69-55 lead with 8:16 to go in the game.
"We were really able to execute on offense there in the second half," said Martin, who finished with a career-high 29 points in the game.
"We were able to get a lot of good looks and were able to knock them down tonight."
VanderWal had high praise for the Huntington, W.Va. native, who also grabbed six rebounds and did his share in defending Denison standout Dimonde Hale.
"J.J. is that kind of player that really has the ability to get it going offensively," said VanderWal. "He can score on the block, he can score from mid-range and he can hit threes. He had a great game tonight."
The Pioneer defense combined to limit Hale to 13 points, eight points under his season average of 21 points per game.
"The main focus of our game plan all week was to try and stop Hale," said VanderWal of his team's defensive effort. "Both (Jason) Humphery and J.J. did a great job on him. It was just a total team effort."
VanderWal got very productive games from a pair of bigs in 6-foot-7 sophomore Garrett Stephenson, who scored 14 points in just 17 minutes, and 6-6 junior Matt Napier, who chipped in with a double-double with 13 points to go along with a game high 11 rebounds.
"Those guys are big bruisers down low," said VanderWal, whose team outrebounded the Big Reds 38-25 in the game. "They are both really starting to come into their own which is very exciting for our team."
Hale's 13 points led the Big Reds, while Bret Woolard also reached double figures with 11.