WOOSTER, Ohio – Traveling three-quarters of the way across the country into the heart of Ohio is just part of the journey for the Whitworth University basketball team.
Friday night at The College of Wooster’s Timken Gym, the Pirates took another step closer to their ultimate destination.
Whitworth, the No. 1-ranked Division III team in the nation, came out firing, building a 20-point lead in the first 10 minutes en route to a 93-77 victory over No.11 Marietta (Ohio) College in a sectional game. Now 28-1, the Pirates will play host and fifth-ranked Wooster today for a spot in the final four next weekend in Salem, Va. In the second game Friday, the Fighting Scots (29-2) defeated Cabrini College (Pa) 94-77.
Marietta (27-4), the champion of the Ohio Athletic Conference, was making its first appearance in the national tournament since1975. The Pioneers got within five points twice early in the second half but could never figure out a way to slow down the Bucs’ offense, as Whitworth hit 10 of its first 12 field goals and 62 percent for the game.
“We ran into a buzzsaw,” Marietta coach Jon VanderWal said. “Watching them on film this week, we thought they might be the best Division III team we’d ever seen, and they didn’t disappoint. It wasn’t that we weren’t ready to go, Whitworth is just really, really good.”
The Pirates shot 67 percent in the first half to take a 47-33 lead. They would finish 12 of 20 on 3-pointers with three players scoring 20 or more points.
But Whitworth coach Jim Hayford said his team’s defense was the difference. The Pirates held Marietta’s 6-foot-6 Trevor Halter, the OAC’s Player of the Year averaging 15 points a game, without a field goal, while the Pioneers’ other 6-6 15-point scorer, Kevin Knab, scored just eight before fouling out.
“The easy thing to look at would be us shooting 62 percent, but the real reason for this win was the rebounding difference (32-19) and holding their conference player of the year without a basket,” Hayford said. “A lot of people in our area think Clay Gebbers might be the best defensive player to ever come through our league, and while he may have fouled out doing it, he didn’t let (Halter) go off.”
Michael Taylor, who led the Bucs with 27 points, scored nine of those during a 28-5 run that gave Whitworth a 33-13 lead.
“We came out with the mindset that we were going to deliver the first good punch, and we usually try to rely on our defense to do that,” said Taylor, a 6-4 senior guard who hit 7 of 9 from the floor, 11 of 13 foul shots, and added seven rebounds. “Tonight, we got it going at both ends of the court, and that’s how we built the lead.”
“A lot of times, big leads are fool’s gold, because it makes you relax,” said Hayford. “We knew they would come back with a punch of their own, but we took it and didn’t flinch.”
Wade Gebbers had 22 points for the Bucs, while David Riley added 20, including 4 of 5 3-pointers. Felix Freidt grabbed a game-high nine rebounds, while Jack Loofburrow came off the bench for nine points on a trio of 3-pointers. Jacob Owens led Marietta with 14 points.
“With the team we have, we just play the game, then figure out who we play next,” said Taylor, when asked about being one win away from the semifinals. “Win the game, then get ready for the next one.”