Honestly, it didn't look good for the Marietta College men's basketball team at halftime.
In front of a noisy, sold out, standing room only crowd at Ban Johnson Arena Saturday night, the No. 13-ranked Pioneers trailed visiting John Carroll University 49-28 in the Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament championship game.
A 21-point deficit. How in the world were the Pioneers going to make up that difference? Well, thinking positively, the navy blue and white had a whole second half or 20 minutes to do so.
"It was just extreme focus," said MC point Tyler Worstell of the mood in the Pioneer locker room at halftime. "Just focus on one possession at a time, and we knew we had to get tough. We needed defensive stops."
In the first half, John Carroll just couldn't miss, shooting a blistering 61.1 percent (22 of 36) from the floor. And, frontcourt people Maurice Haynes and Mark Hester were unstoppable, combining for 25 points.
"We played a good first half," said John Carroll head coach Mike Moran, whose Blue Streaks were 0-2 versus Marietta during the regular season. "Actually, we didn't shoot bad in the second half (54.2 percent on 13-24), but...."
Marietta College men’s basketball coach Jon VanderWal hoists the Ohio Athletic Conference title trophy after Saturday night’s win in the title game.
Special to the Times
But, Marietta, which rallied to win the game 88-85 and secure its first OAC Tournament championship, shot better after the break. Much better (63.3 percent on 19-30).
"Against a team like this, you can get back in the game, because it's going to be such a fast-paced game," said MC head coach Jon VanderWal. "But we had to be a lot tougher and take it to them."
It is said that to overcome such a large deficit, the first thing is to try to get it into single digits. Well, MC did that early on, scoring 13 unanswered points to make it 56-50. Then, after JCU hit a three, the Pioneers had an 8-2 run to cut it to two points (60-58) at the 11:14 mark.
With nine minutes remaining, it was a ballgame - and anything was possible.
At the 5:34 mark, Worstell dished a pass in the paint to Conner Kilpatrick, who scored, making it 71-70 Marietta. The Pioneers had finally caught the Blue Streaks, but it was shortlived as the visitors from University Heights answered with two straight Corey Shontz triples to regain the advantage, 76-71.
Marietta didn't flinch, however, stayed composed and more importantly within striking distance. Still battling, Jason Humphrey's layup with 1:41 left tied the score at 82-all. But again, JCU recovered and took the lead when Maurice Haynes made one-of-two freebies.
Now, it was under a minute left, and the Pioneers had the ball. With 49 seconds remaining, Worstell drained a three to give the navy blue and white its second lead of the half.
"It felt good when I let it go," Worstell said. "We needed it and I'm really glad I hit it."
Added MC tournament MVP Trevor Halter, "That was huge. That was one of the biggest shots in the game."
Well, as it turned out, of course, Halter himself would hit the biggest shot, knocking down a three and the game-winner with four seconds left to cap an incredible second-half comeback.
"We were hoping that we'd get hot a little bit and make some plays (in the second half)," VanderWal said. "And, that's what happened."
It's an old cliche, but, really, all's well that ends well. Right now, things couldn't be any better for the Marietta College men's basketball program, honestly.
Said Moran, "There's a reason why they (Marietta) won the conference. They're a good team."
Ron Johnston is the Marietta Times' sports editor and can be reached at 376-5441 or at firstname.lastname@example.org