Marietta, Capital battle for first place in the OAC tonight
MARIETTA — Sole possession of first place in the Ohio Athletic Conference is on the line at 7 p.m. today when Capital invades Ban Johnson Arena to take on 10th-ranked Marietta College.
Both teams are 6-0 in the OAC. The Crusaders come in riding a 10-game winning streak while Pioneers have won two straight since suffering their first loss at the D3 Desert Invitational in Phoenix. Saturday, Marietta defeated Heidelberg 67-64 in what was the team’s lowest scoring game of the season.
“I don’t think we’re playing our best basketball right now,” said MC head coach Jon VanderWal. “Guys are playing really hard, but we haven’t been executing offensively as well as we were early on. The majority of our ballclub is really dialed in and trying to stay the course. I really like this team. They’re doing good things.”
While Marietta was expected to be a force in the conference, Capital has kind of come out of nowhere.
After finishing sixth in the OAC with an 8-10 record last year, the Crusaders have been on a roll this season. Led by the trio of Joey Weingartner, Caleb Cox and Austin Schreck, the Damon Goodwin-coached squad is 11-2 overall and is ranked fourth in the OAC in points scored per game and second in points allowed per game.
“Cap’s playing really well,” VanderWal said. “This is a huge game. They are a really tough, hard-nosed ballclub. They execute really well offensively. If you cheat anything at all, they know how to counter it. And, they’re really solid defensively. They’re a plus-eight rebounding team, so we’re going to have to be better on the glass than we have been lately.”
Cox is the top rebounder in the OAC, averaging 10.6 per game. Weingartner is fourth in the league in points per game with 16.5. Schreck is adding 15.8 per game while Cox is netting 15.6 a game.
Defensively, Capital, which is unranked in Division III but did receive votes in the latest poll, is allowing just 68.2 points per game to its opponents. Something will have to give, though, as Marietta is scoring an OAC-best 86.8 points per contest.
VanderWal said his team will have to put together a well rounded effort to take down the Crusaders.
“It’ll take a little bit of everything,” he said. “We can’t let them be comfortable and run their sets and pick us apart. We’ve got to get after them a bit and throw their timing off. A huge key is going to be rebounding, with how big and strong they are. And, we’ve got to be able to execute offensively.”
Marietta is led in scoring by Kyle Dixon (12.3) with Anthony Wallace (10.4) and Keith Richardson (10.0 in five games) also averaging double figures. Other scoring threats for Marietta have been Jason Ellis (9.4), Lukas Isaly (9.0), Tim Kreeger (8.9) and Caleb Hoyng (8.5).
Kreeger is fourth in the OAC in field goal percentage at 61.4 percent. He’s also second on the team in rebounding (5.3). Dixon (5.5) is first.
Isaly, a freshman, has started all 13 games at point guard for the Pioneers. A River graduate, Isaly had big shoes to fill coming into the season after Marietta graduated 1,000-point scorer Dillon Young. VanderWal has been impressed with Isaly’s play and the way he’s handled himself.
“Lukas has been tremendous,” VanderWal said. “He’s still learning, obviously, but he’s exactly what you’re looking for in a point guard. He handles adversity well and has a knack for turning around and making good plays. He doesn’t get rattled.”
Isaly leads the team with 1.8 assists per game.
“He’s been a huge addition to our team,” VanderWal continued. “I’m really proud of how he’s handled everything. Being a freshman on a top 10 team, it’s not easy with all the expectations. He’s handled it tremendously.”
Marietta has won an OAC title in four consecutive seasons and will be in the driver’s seat to claim a fifth with a win against Capital. The Crusaders last won an OAC title in 2013 and would like to put themselves in position to win another this season. There’s still a lot of season left, but a lot is at stake in this one.
“(Capital’s) playing well right now and playing with confidence,” VanderWal said.
“I’m hoping we have a jam-packed house. This is a big-time OAC matchup for first place.”