Marietta tops Wittenberg on late shot
Hammond hits shot to send Marietta into Third Round
MARIETTA, Ohio -- With the clock winding below 10 seconds, Marietta freshman Tyler Hammond anticipated he’d pass the ball to junior Trevor Halter for a potential game-winning shot.
Instead, Hammond floated a jumper over Wittenberg’s Alex Brandt with six seconds remaining to lift the No. 11 Pioneers (27-3) to a 63-62 victory in the second round of the NCAA Division III Men’s Basketball Championship at Ban Johnson Arena.
“I’d say that was a 50-50 shot for me,” said Hammond, who scored nine in front of another packed house of 1,403.
The basket secured Marietta its first trip to the NCAA Division III Third Round. The Pioneers also avenged a loss from 36 years ago, when Wittenberg beat Marietta 85-70 in the second round of the 1975 NCAA Tournament.
Marietta coach Jon VanderWal said the play was designed for either Hammond to dish it to Halter or take it to the basket for a shot.
“We got into a full court spread, and we wanted (Hammond) to go to his left because we didn’t think (Wittenberg’s defender) would come off Trevor,” VanderWal said. “I have confidence in Tyler. He’s one of the best creators in our conference or maybe even Division III.”
But Marietta’s victory was a true team effort.
After falling behind by seven at half, the Pioneers scratched and clawed back into the game. Marietta’s starters put together another solid performance, including 12 points and five rebounds from junior Kevin Knab and 11 points and three assists from Halter.
However, the bench provided a huge spark.
Sophomore J.J. Martin made two clutch three-point baskets and finished with 11 points. Sophomore Tyler Worstell added a three-pointer and two assists, while junior Conner Kilpatrick played some quality minutes in the post with four points and two rebounds.
Arguably the biggest performance off the bench came from junior Joe Puch, who helped shut down Wittenberg’s sharpshooting guard Chris Sullivan in the second half. Sullivan shot lights out in the first half, making all four of his three-point attempts, as the Tigers (20-9) led by as many as 10.
“We did a great job in the first half, but we may have let up a bit in the second half,” said Wittenberg coach Steve Moore. “Our guys were just big-time focused and played great defense.”
Then Puch shocked almost everyone in the gym, Moore included, when he buried a three-pointer 19 seconds left to give the Pioneers a short-lived 61-60 lead.
“Puch is supposed to be a defensive player and steps up and hits that three,” Moore said.
VanderWal was equally impressed with Puch’s feat.
“I was trying to call a timeout when Joe hit his 3. I’m just glad the officials didn’t hear me,” VanderWal said. “He has a lot of guts taking that shot.”
Wittenberg answered, though, when senior Seth Hill made both ends of a 1-and-1.
“I had complete confidence I would make them,” Hill said.
Following a Wittenberg timeout, Hammond drove the length of the court for the eventual game winner. However, the Tigers managed to get the ball into Sullivan’s hands and his desperation three-pointer came up short.
Wittenberg’s Clayton Black tried to pick up the loose ball, but pushed it out of bounds with 0.2 seconds to play. Puch inbounded the ball off Black as the clock expired.
And a 36-year drought came to a crashing end.
“This is a great accomplishment for us and we’re excited to reach the next level and see how we do against the competition,” VanderWal said. “This is also great for Marietta College and the community. This is a great night to be a Pioneer.”
Marietta will await the winner of the No. 1 Whitworth and No. 12 Chapman game, which tipped off at 10 p.m. EST. The match-up will take place Friday (March 11) but the time and location will be announced Sunday.