When the No. 9 Marietta College men's basketball team scored 16 unanswered points to take a 43-32 lead early in the second half against visiting Ohio Northern University, a Pioneer win seemed almost certain.
Thing is, though, there were still a lot of game left to be played when ONU took a timeout at the 11:43 mark. Give the John Rhodes-coached Polar Bears credit as they battled back and eventually pulled out a 59-57 come-from-behind triumph.
"We let them hang around," said MC basketball coach Jon VanderWal. "And when you let a good team like Ohio Northern stick around, anything can happen in the end - and anything happened."
What happened was Ohio Northern's Reco Spears got the ball and drove on MC's Tyler Hammond with the score tied and time running out. It appeared that the 5-foot-10 Hammond made a nice, defensive play on Spears, but the ref saw it differently and awarded the 6-4 Polar Bear freshman two foul shots.
"You don't want to put it in the ref's hands," VanderWal said. "You've got to take care of business the other 39 minutes of the game."
Spears calmly converted two freebies to make it 59-57 ONU with three seconds left.
After an MC timeout, Hammond did get off a desperation shot, which was off the mark. Game over.
So much for that 16-0 Marietta run early in the half.
"That's what's frustrating right now with us," said MC senior Kevin Knab, who finished with a game-high 18 points and 11 rebounds. "We have spurts where we go on 10-0, 12-0, 15-0 runs, and then allow three turnovers in a row, then miss open threes, layups and jumpers. All of a sudden, we've let a team back in it. That's something we need to fix here in practice, going into Wilmington."
Ah, Wilmington. The host Quakers are up next for Marietta (6-3 overall, 2-2 OAC) at 7:30 p.m. tonight. This will be the Pioneers' last game before Christmas, and it won't take a petroleum engineer to know what VanderWal wants to see gift-wrapped: a Pioneer win.
"Wilmington will be really tough," VanderWal said. "It's going to be a big game for us."
No question about that. WC is the OAC leader now and has a two-game lead over the Pioneers. On Saturday, the Quakers downed host Mount Union 75-71 in overtime. Antonio Bowman paced the winners with a team-high 21 points. Malcolm Heard added 14 markers and grabbed six rebounds.
Wilmington is 5-4 overall but undefeated in the OAC with a 4-0 mark.
Needless to say, MC is in a mini-slump right now with consecutive losses to Ohio University and Ohio Northern. The one to the Division I Bobcats is understandable, but to ONU? The Pioneers let that one slip away.
"We can't shoot the ball right now," VanderWal said, "and we're struggling."
Another 16-0 run might be just what Marietta needs tonight. That, and more shots falling.
Ron Johnston is the Marietta Times sports editor and can be reached at 376-5441 or at firstname.lastname@example.org