Trevor Halter and Kevin Knab, Marietta College's one-two offensive punch, combined to score 15 points in last Friday's 93-77 setback to top-ranked Whitworth University in an NCAA Division III sectional game at the College of Wooster's Timken Gymnasium last Friday.
At halftime, Knab had a bucket, and Halter, a pair of free-throws - and the Pioneers trailed 47-33.
"That killed us," said MC head coach Jon VanderWal, whose No. 11 Pioneers finished the season with a school-best 27-4 record. "Kevin being in foul trouble really hurt. With him on the bench, it makes it a little easier to key on Trevor, and I think that was a big difference in the game."
Going into the contest, Halter - the Ohio Athletic Conference Player of the Year - and Knab - the OAC runner-up - each were averaging 15 points per game.
"Usually those guys balance each other out," VanderWal said. "You've kind of got to pick your poison between the two of them."
Whitworth coach Jim Hayford pretty much agreed with VanderWal's assessment of defense being the key factor in the contest, and credited 6-foot-1 senior Pirate guard Clay Gebbers for his blue collar play.
"Everyone in the Northwest thinks Clay Gebbers is the best defensive player to go through the league," Hayford said, "and we assigned him to Halter."
How effective was Gebbers on the 6-6 Halter?
In the first half, Halter attempted no field goal shots, although he did get to the foul line once.
"Clay Gebbers is a really good defender for them," VanderWal said. "He was really working hard on Trevor and kind of frustrated Trevor a little bit."
Gebbers was also doing it alone for the most part.
"We told Clay that he didn't have to help anywhere else," Hayford said, "and to just take care of that guy (Halter) and not let him go off. Then, when he got into foul trouble, we gave the assignment to Mike (Taylor)."
At 6-4, Taylor, Whitworth's best and most versatile player, matched up better with Halter, but....
"We just couldn't get Trevor any looks in the first half," VanderWal said.
OK, let's play "What if," coach.
What if Halter, who had a 5-inch height advantage on Gebbers, had posted the smaller Whitworth defender down low, would that have worked? Hard to say, because Gebbers probably would have received help from the Pirates' frontline, if that had occurred.
Anyways, Gebbers ended up fouling out with 4:23 left in the game. Halter finished with three field goal attempts and seven total points, all from the charity stripe.
"With Clay fouling out, that just goes to show you how good Halter is," Hayford said.
Meanwhile, the 6-6, 205-pound Knab had his hands full on defense with Whitworth's 6-8, 242-pound Felix Friedt from Dusseldorf, Germany, and the rest of the Pirates' frontline. At the half, the Pioneer standout only had two personals, but after the break, he got into further trouble before fouling out with 5:07 remaining.
"Whitworth has a big man down low, who's a load, and really good," VanderWal said. "He required attention, and the other four guys that they had on the court can absolutely stroke the basketball. You just can't leave them."
Knab finished the game with eight points and attempted no foul shots. Overall, he did a good job defensively, because Friedt was also in foul trouble, along with his Pirate teammates, 6-7 Jack Loofburrow and 6-5 David Riley, who all had four personals.
"They (Whitworth) just have so many weapons, and can hurt you in so many different ways," VanderWal said. "But you know, our guys aren't afraid of anything, and the good thing is we've got everybody back."
Yes, indeed, Halter and Knab certainly do give the Pioneers a nice nucleus of returnees next season. And, for what it's worth, Gebbers and Taylor - who incidentally are first cousins - and Riley - are scheduled to graduate from Whitworth this spring.
Note: Whitworth's season came to an end after a 76-66 loss to 5th-ranked Wooster in the sectional final Saturday night. The Pirates finished with a record of 28-2, the most victories in school history. The Fighting Scots (30-2) advanced to their third final four since 2004.
Whitworth came within a game of becoming the first school from the west coast to advance to the NCAA Division III men's final four since 1982.
Ron Johnston is the Marietta Times sports editor and can be reached at 376-5441 or at firstname.lastname@example.org