Marietta punches ticket to Elite 8 with convincing 78-61 victory

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ROCK ISLAND, Illinois — Marietta's four seniors aren't taking anything for granted as the basketball season gets closer to the end.

"We're enjoying chilling with each other," said Anthony Wallace. "The four seniors are not going to be able to get these days back, those hours back or those minutes back. So we're just trying to soak everything in because we'll never get this chance again."

Wallace played a key role in helping Marietta cruise to a 78-61 victory over Oswego State in the NCAA Division III Section Semifinal at Roy J. Carver Center on the campus of Augustana College Friday night.

Wallace, who scored nine points during a second half surge that saw the Pioneers outscore the Lakers 41-26, understands that getting to this point in the tournament is not easy.

"We're here now, but just because we're Marietta doesn't mean we'll make it back," he said. "It takes a lot of hard work."

The 22nd-ranked Pioneers (23-6) are back in the Elite 8 for just the second time in program history. Marietta reached this point in 2014-15 before losing to Augustana 100-51 on the same floor as Friday's game.

"We've been in the Sweet 16. We've been actually played in tomorrow's game before and we want another crack at it," said Marietta coach Jon VanderWal. "We want a chance to play in the Final Four. I told the guys in the locker room that they have five minutes to enjoy it and then go watch these teams (Augustana and Wheaton) play because we're not here to win one game. We know the challenge is going to be tough, but we're not happy just to be here."

Marietta dominated in the paint with 32 points to Oswego's 20, but the biggest statistical discrepancy came on bench scoring. The Pioneers outscored the 25th-ranked Lakers (24-6) 40-1.

"It doesn't come as a big surprise," VanderWal said. "Coach (Jason) Leone doesn't play a lot of guys and we knew that."

Oswego had to play more than usual, though, as senior center Tyler Pierre got into foul trouble and sophomore point guard Liam Sanborn fouled out with 10:33 to play in the game following a personal foul and a follow-up technical.

Marietta led by 17 at the time, and extended it to as many as 22 in the final half.

"Proud of our effort. These guys were playing a lot like last week," VanderWal said. "I think it showed the first five minutes of the game. We came out and threw the first punch. It's always nice to see the ball go through the hoop early. I thought we had a great effort all of the way around."

Sparking Marietta on offense in the first half was sophomore Jason Ellis, who scored 11 of his 13 points.

"It felt great to hit some shots early and get my confidence up early," Ellis said. "We've talked all week about being ready for the moment. Playing in the Sweet 16 for Marietta is awesome."

The Pioneers took a 37-35 lead into the break after jumping out to an early 8-0 lead. They still led by as many as eight with 8:12 to play, but the Lakers proceeded to outscore Marietta 18-12 to close out the half.

"We got off to a good start and then got stagnant. They made a run there and even got the lead," VanderWal said. "I wasn't thrilled with how we played the second 10 minutes of the first half. I really liked what we were doing the first 10 minutes of the half, but then we got out of synch. Give them credit for that as they were trying to keep us on our toes going from man to zone."

Marietta came out strong in the second half and rolled to a 63-42 lead that was capped by a Mel Shuler steal and and layup with 10:05 to play.

"Second half I thought we came out and jumped on them and set the tone for how the second half was going to go," VanderWal said.

Senior Kyle Dixon had 10 points and five rebounds for the Pioneers, while freshman Lukas Isaly added 10 points. Shuler had nine points and senior Keith Richardson added eight points and three rebounds.

Marietta shot an impressive 52.6 percent (30-of-57) from the field and 50.0 percent from behind the 3-point line (11-of-22).

Oswego had four players score in double digits with Quinn Carey leading the way with 18 points and five rebounds. Sanborn had 14 points, Brandan Gartland had 12 and Tyler Pierre added 11 points and 10 rebounds in the loss.