Arrow-right Camera

Whitworth expects hostile environment for Division III game at Wooster, Oho

No need to post a sign.

The coaches involved already know there are “No Dogs Allowed” in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Division III men’s basketball tournament.

That’s why Whitworth University’s Jim Hayford has taken nothing for granted in preparing his No. 1-ranked and top-seeded Pirates (27-1) for this afternoon’s sectional semifinal against 11th-ranked Marietta (Ohio) College (27-3) in Wooster, Ohio.

Tipoff is set for 2:30 in Timken Gymnasium, the home court of fifth-ranked Wooster (28-2), which faces Cabrini (24-5) in this evening’s other sectional semifinal.

Hayford expects his Bucs, despite their lofty ranking, to have their hands full.

“There’s a reason they’re 27-3,” he said of the Ohio Athletic Conference champion Pioneers, who are making their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1975. “You look at all the things the make a good team, and they’ve got them all – a strong post-up game, two lights-out shooters and a cat-quick point guard.

“They’re deserving of their ranking, and I expect this to play out like a true Sweet 16 game with two talented teams really going at each other.”

Of major concern to Hayford is Marietta leading scorer Trevor Halter, a 6-foot-6, 200-pound junior who is shooting 45.3 percent (63 of 139) from 3-point range and averaging 15.4 points per game.

“We’ve got to stop No. 3, no question about it,” Hayford said of Halter, who has started every game for the Panthers since arriving on campus three years ago. “And then we have to keep them off the foul line.”

Marietta, in its fourth season under head coach Jon VanderWal, has made 71.2 percent of its free throws and has two starters – Kevin Knab and Tyler Hammond – shooting better than 80 percent from the line.

Knab, another 6-6 junior, is averaging 15.1 points and a team-high 6.3 rebounds, and Hammond, a 5-11 freshman point guard, is averaging 11 points and a team-high 3.1 assists.

Hayford also expects to deal with a hostile environment in Wooster’s 3,400-seat gym.

“I’m sure the Wooster fans are going to cheer for the in-state team,” he said, “and would probably prefer not to play the No. 1 team in the next round. So we’re treating it like a true home game (for Marietta).”

Whitworth, which leads the nation with an average scoring margin of plus-22.8 per game, features an offensive attack that is more balanced than Marietta’s. The Pirates’ top scorer is senior guard Michael Taylor, who is averaging 19.9 point per game, but three others – senior David Riley (16.5 ppg) and juniors Felix Friedt (12.8) and Jack Loofburrow (12.1 ppg) – also average double figures.

Friedt, a 6-8, 242-pound center, was reunited with the team on Thursday after flying back to his home in Dusseldorf, Germany, following Saturday’s second-round tournament win over Chapman, to attend his grandfather’s funeral.

Friedt’s father, Gerhard, accompanied his son back to the United States and will watch him play in a Whitworth uniform for the first time.

Hayford said about 50 Pirates fans are expected to make the trip to Wooster, including 35 from Brewster, Wash., the home town of Taylor and his two cousins, Clay and Wade Gebbers.