Jon VanderWal nearly leaped on the scorer's table after Marietta College staged a dramatic second-half rally to defeat John Carroll University, 88-85, in an Ohio Athletic Conference tournament title game at noisy, sold out, standing room only Ban Johnson Arena Saturday night.
The fourth-year Pioneer men's basketball coach was so excited.
"We were the more aggressive team in the second half," VanderWal said, "and that's why we were able to pull this thing off."
With the come-from-behind victory, Marietta College men's basketball history was made. Never before had a Pioneer cage team claimed an OAC tourney crown.
"We just wanted to win the championship so bad for the town and all of Pioneer nation," said MC all-tourney honoree Kevin Knab, who scored 14 points before fouling out late in the contest. "The crowd really pulled us through."
Now, Marietta, No. 13 in Division III with a 25-3 record, will receive an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament, which is scheduled to tip off either Friday or Saturday.
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.
"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 non-starter Joe Puch netted 10 markers. The Pioneer pine chipped in with 30 points, while JCU's had only 10.
OAC Tournament Championship game
Marietta 88, John Carroll 85
John Carroll 49 36 - 85
Marietta 28 60 - 88
JOHN CARROLL (19-9): Mark Hester 11-19 1-2 24; Maurice Haynes 8-12 4-9 20; Corey Shontz 5-11 1-2 14; Joey Meyer 4-6 0-0 9; Michael Harnett 3-4 0-1 8; Conor Sweeney 1-1 0-0 3; Conor Tulow 1-3 0-0 3; DeAndre Richardson 1-2 0-0 2; Kenny Janz 1-1 0-0 2; Ryan Angers 0-10-0 0. Team 35-60 6-14 85; 3pt goals 9 (Shontz 3, Hartnett 2, Hester 1, Sweeney 1, Meyer 1, Tilow 1).
MARIETTA (25-3): Trevor Halter 6-11 6-7 21; Jason Humphrey 6-8 3-3 15; Kevin Knab 5-7 4-4 14; Joe Puch 3-8 1-2 10; Conner Kilpatrick 3-4 0-0 6; J. J. Martin 2-4 0-1 5; Tyler Worstell 2-4 0-0 5; Jacob Owens 1-4 0-0 3; Brian Crader 1-2 0-0 3; Tyler Hammond 1-2 1-2 3; Andrew Seaman 1-1 0-0 3. Team 31-55 15-19 88; 3pt goals 11 (Halter 3, Puch 3, Owens 1, Crader 1, Martin 1, Seaman 1, Worstell 1).
John Carroll: 35-60 (58 percent); 3pt shooting 9-21 (43 percent); Rebounds 29 (Hester 8); Assists 12 (Shontz 3, Hester 3); Steals 7 (Shontz 3); Turnovers 13; Blocks 1 (Hester 1); Total fouls: 19; Fouled out: none.
Marietta: Shooting 31-55 (56 percent); 3pt shooting 11-24 (46 prcent); Rebounds 29 (Hammond 6, Martin 6); Assists 17 (Worstell 5); Steals 2 (Humphrey, Knab ); Turnovers 13; Blocks 2 (Halter, Kilpatrick); Total fouls: 16; Fouled out: Knab.
Marietta trailed 49-28 at halftime, but outpointed the Blue Streaks (19-9) after the break, 60-36. The Pioneers were 19 of 30 from the floor after the break.
"We've been only down at half maybe a couple times this year," said VanderWal, whose Pioneers were actually down 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."
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.
"We brought a good product up here and we played hard," John Carroll head coach Mike Moran said. "What else can you ask for."
Marietta, though, 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 two straight Shontz threes.
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 wanted to get the ball in Trevor's hands," VanderWal said.
"He's made big shots all year long. And, he delivered."
Said Moran, "I thought in the last five-10 minutes of the game, Halter was going to touch the ball every time. He's an outstanding player. His teammates got him the ball. They knew who was buttering the bread."