Pioneers in OAC tourney tonight: Marietta College men host Wilmington with trip to finals on the line

Marietta College men’s basketball coach Jon VanderWal feels the Wilmington Quakers have the best player in the Ohio Athletic Conference.

In two games this season against the Pioneers, Wilmington’s Malcolm Heard averaged 27.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.

Fortunately for VanderWal and the Pios, neither performance led to a victory for the Quakers as Marietta swept the regular season series.

Wilmington will get a third crack at the Pioneers tonight at 7:30 in an OAC Tournament semifinal matchup at Ban Johnson Arena. The winner will play in the tournament championship game on Saturday.

“The biggest key for us will be finding a way to shut down or limit Malcolm Heard,” VanderWal said. “He’s one of the best players in the conference. He’s a load down low.”

Heard currently leads the OAC in scoring (18.4) and rebounding (8.0) per game. Teammate R.J. Leppert (13.7) is the only other Quakers player scoring double figures per game.

Marietta, on the other hand, features a much more balanced offensive attack, with seven players averaging at least eight points per game.

RaNeal Ewing leads the unit with 12.5 markers a game with Andy Dollman close behind at 12.2.

Ewing will likely come off the bench for VanderWal’s squad, while Dollman will be joined in the starting lineup by Brennan McKean (8.9 point per game), Luis Garcia (10.7), Andy Stegman (4.8) and Garrett Stephenson (9.4). Stephenson is recovering from a concussion but is expected to be cleared to play. If not, Marietta has a pair of solid post players on the bench in Eddy Grenert and A.J. Davis, both averaging eight points per game.

Along with Heard and Leppert, Wilmington will likely start Klarke Ranson (9.4), Dwight Johnson (8.7) and Ben Vonderhaar (6.9).

Last year Marietta hosted Wilmington in the same round of the conference tournament, eventually winning in triple overtime. On Jan, 25 of this year, at Wilmington, it took a basket by Grenert with four-tenths of a second left for the Pioneers to dispatch the Quakers. VanderWal said his team is ready for similar type of battle tonight.

“I think we’re prepared,” he said. “We know what we’ve got to do, it’s just a matter of making the plays and making it happen.”