Pioneers open OAC semifinals

MARIETTA – The Marietta College men’s basketball team will square off against Wilmington tonight in an OAC Tournament semifinal game at 7:30 p.m. at Ban Johnson Arena.

The winner will advance to the OAC championship game on Saturday against either Mount Union or Capital.

The Pioneers (18-7, 14-4) should feel good about their chances, as they defeated Wilmington (14-12, 10-8) twice during the regular season. On Dec. 8, MC won 64-57 at Wilmington, and then on Jan. 19, the two teams squared off at Ban Johnson with Marietta again coming out on top 98-87.

“We hope it gives us more confidence and doesn’t fire (Wilmington) up more,” said Marietta College head coach Jon VanderWal. “It’s always a tough game with them. They always play well in the OAC tournament. We know they’re going be juiced.”

Marietta College will have plenty to be fired up about as well. Last season the Pioneers were one-and-done in the OAC tourney, dropping a 58-54 decision to Ohio Northern.

Marietta has five talented seniors who don’t want their college careers to end tonight.

“These guys are in their fourth year in the OAC tournament,” VanderWal said. “We’re hoping they handle the tournament jitters well.”

The Quakers are averaging 72.3 points per game, led by the duo of Malcolm Heard (16.1 ppg) and Brandon Candella (14.7 ppg). VanderWal knows all about Wilmington’s talented twosome.

“We’ve put a lot of focus on those guys in the past, especially Heard,” VanderWal said. “Heard is a beast down low. Candella always seems to give us problems too, probably because we put so much focus on Heard. They have a lot of weapons.”

Marietta also has big-time force down low in senior J.J. Martin. Martin leads the Pioneers in scoring (16.8 ppg) and rebounding (6.6 rpg).

The 6-foot-5 standout dropped 32 points on Wilmington earlier in the season and will likely be a big key in tonight’s matchup.

The Pioneer starting lineup also will likely consist of junior Tyler Hammond (9.9 ppg) and seniors Jacob Owens (8.3 ppg), Jason Humphrey (5.8 ppg) and Scott Kimmey (5.3 ppg).

Sophomores Brennan McKean (7.8 ppg) and Garrett Stephenson (7.5 ppg) and senior Tyler Worstell (6.9 ppg) also will play crucial roles off the bench.

Along with Heard and Candella, K.C. Hunt-coached Wilmington will likely go with Dwight Johnson (8.2 ppg), Klarke Ranson (7.5 ppg) and Miles Bankston (4.3 ppg).

From the opening tip-off until the final whistle, VanderWal will be looking for effort and execution from his team.

“We’ve got to limit penetration,” VanderWal said. “They’re good at getting to the basket. We’ll have to play good inside-out defense. It will be important for us to rebound well, but it will likely come down to us knocking down our shots.”