MARIETTA, OH – The University of Rochester men's basketball team rallied from a 12-point second half deficit to stun #7 Marietta 85-80 in the NCAA Division III Tournament Sectional Semifinals on Friday evening at Marietta's Ban Johnson Arena.
The win puts 13th-ranked UR (24-4) into the national quarterfinals for the sixth time in school history. The Yellowjackets will face top-ranked and unbeaten Whitman College for a spot in the Final Four. The loss, Marietta's first on its home floor in 2016-17 ends the Pioneers season at 26-5.
"Both teams gave it everything they had tonight," said UR's Head Coach Luke Flockerzi, "but we had some fortunate moments at the end of the game. The luck went our way, especially with Ryan Clamage making some huge plays for us."
Clamage scored a remarkable spinning layup with one second left on the shot clock following up a UR missed three, putting the Yellowjackets up 82-80 with under 30 seconds remaining in the game, a play which proved to be the difference.
After Marietta followed by missing a jumper, sophomore Michael Mangan grabbed the defensive rebound for UR and was fouled, heading to the line for two shots.
He would miss both, but Clamage again came up huge, fighting off four Pioneers for the rebound in the lane, eventually keeping the play alive in UR's hands.
"I know my role on the team, and that's to have energy and make plays both defensively and on the offensive boards," said Clamage. "I was trying to make the extra play, and it ended up being a lucky bounce for me."
Mack Montague then stepped up and made one of two free throws, giving UR a 3-point lead with seven seconds on the clock.
Rochester's defense made a big stop on the other end, not allowing the Pioneers to get a shot off and Montague capped the scoring with two more free throws with under a second on the clock to seal the win.
Montague ended up finishing with a game high 27 points, including going 6-11 from 3-point range. The six treys allowed the senior to break the all-time Rochester record three's made, now sitting at 240 in his career. He surpasses Kyle Meeker's mark of 235 set back in 1994.
"I was fortunate enough to have my teammates allow me to let it fly," explained the UR senior, "and fortunately for us they went in."
Joining Montague in double-figure scoring was Sam Borst-Smith who finished with 17 points five assists and four rebounds, Ayers who had 13 points and Clamage who added 11 points and a team high nine rebounds off the bench.
The Pioneers rode the inside game of senior AJ Edwards in the opening minutes, as the senior scored the hosts' first eight points. That coupled with some Yellowjackets shooting woes, which saw UR miss 10 of their first 13 shots, led to a Marietta 12-6 lead seven minutes into the game.
Rochester would respond with an extended 21-4 run to take an 11-point lead, highlighted by five 3-pointers from Montague, Ayers, Patrick Benka and Borst-Smith who made two.
Marietta then ran off an 18-2 spurt to go back ahead by five at 37-32 with two minutes left in the half. In the run, Marietta's RaNeal Ewing had seven points while teammate Anthony Wallace added five with the Yellowjackets shooting just 1-9 over the five minute span.
At the break, the host Pioneers held a five point lead, up 42-37. The Yellowjackets shot just 34% in the opening 20 minutes compared to Marietta's 48%, most of which came in the paint.
Three and a half minutes into the second half, Marietta built its lead to a game-high 12, up 53-41 following an 11-4 rush.
"You have to give Rochester credit, they gutted it out when they were down double-digits in the second half," said Marietta head coach Jon VanderWal, "and that's something that most teams don't do against us."
An 8-0 run, six of which came from UR's sophomore trio of Andrew Lundstrom, Michael Mangan and Clamage, cut the Pioneer lead down to five with 11:13 remaining in the contest.
After the Pioneers built their lead back up to nine, the Yellowjackets made three triples, all of which were contested, in an 11-2 stretch to tie the game at 65 with under eight minutes to play.
Edwards would hit a 3-pointer to ignite the sellout crowd and pull Marietta back up three, but Ayers hit back-to-back long balls of his own with 6:10 left, including a banked shot on his second one, to give UR its first lead since four minutes were left in the first half. The Yellowjackets were up 71-68.
Rochester edged ahead 80-76 with four straight points from Jacob Wittig, but Ewing answered with four of his own to deadlock the score and 80 with 1:38 left on the clock.
The teams then traded a pair of misses on the front end of one-and-one opportunities, giving the Yellowjackets the ball with under a minute to play and the game tied setting up the Ayers miss and Clamage put back which proved to be the difference.
Marietta ended up with two players, Ewing and Edwards, finish with 22 points. Edwards added nine rebounds while Ewing's total featured three 3-pointers.
Friday night's meeting was only the second in school history against the Pioneers, as Rochester defeated Marietta 67-56 in the UR Chuck Resler Tournament final back in 1994.
"This time of year everyone is a good team," said Flockerzi, "we were just trying to survive and advance."
Survive and advance they did.