Day 2: Marietta wins the Hoopsville Classic

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A.J. Edwards and Marietta easily defeated Christopher Newport in a battle of ranked preseason teams.
Marietta athletics file photo 

By Ryan Scott

Technically no one wins the Hoopsville Classic, because it isn't a tournament. But Marietta sure feels like the top team leaving this weekend's events in Owings Mills. 

The most anticipated game of the 2016 Hoopsville Classic National Invitational pitted the 17th ranked Pioneers against No. 2 Christopher Newport, in a matchup of two teams that want to do a lot of the same things: run, pass, go deep on the bench, and play aggressive pressure defense.  With CNU a returning Final Four squad, Marietta came in an underdog.  That didn’t last long.

The teams traded blows throughout the first half.  While the score was close, the Pioneers clearly made the Captains react to their pace and style, taking hold of the game and never letting go. 

Christopher Newport completely changed their offense from Friday, shooting threes and having forward Tim Daly distribute the ball from the top of the key.  The changes didn’t seem to faze Marietta, who continued to frustrate CNU, entering the half with a 33-25 lead.

If the game were a prize fight, I would’ve scored the first half 10-8.  Five minutes into the second half, it was basically a knockout.  All-American senior AJ Edwards dominated the inside for Marietta, shadowing Daly and keeping the Captains out of the paint.

There was a time, with about five minutes left in the first half, when CNU had a chance to fight back, but they were continually let down by a lax perimeter defense.  My best explanation is that CNU so rarely sees teams so long and athletic they can usually get away with defensive lapses; Marietta made them pay for every one.  The Pioneers also outhustled the Captains, outmuscled them, out worked them, and defeated them in every possible way.  It was truly an impressive performance.

2016 Hoopsville National Invitational Classic

All games hosted by Stevenson University in Owings Mills, Md.

Day 1: Friday, November 18

Game 1: Skidmore 80, Randolph-Macon 60

Game 2: No. 17 Marietta 74, Albright 56

Game 3: Lynchburg 101, Stevenson 80

Game 4: No. 2 Christopher Newport 71, UW-Stevens Point 51

Day 2: Saturday, November 19

Game 1: Albright 73, Randolph-Macon 64

Game 2: Skidmore 81, Stevenson 70

Game 3: UW-Stevens Point 83, Lynburgh 73

Game 4: No. 17 Marietta 74, No. 2 Christopher Newport 50 

The final score (74-50) was not indicative of how thoroughly Marietta dominated the game.  Keith Richardson led the Pioneers in scoring, with 18 points in just 18 minutes.  Rayshard Brown was the only Captain in double figures with 12 points.  Marietta shot 21-25 from the free throw line.

The penultimate game proved to be the best matchup of the weekend.  The question before the game was whether Lynchburg’s violent speed or Stevens Point’s stifling defense would win out.  Five minutes in, the game was just 3-2, but the Hornets seemed to be in charge.  The Pointers are extremely talented, but very young and Lynchburg got a lot of experience in big games last year.

Zach Burnett, Lynchburg’s sharp-shooting senior, was hitting shots from deep and on the drive, controlling the half-court offense Stevens Point forced them into on most possessions.  After a slow start, the Pointers seemed to come alive, spurred by the energy of the second unit.  The teams traded runs, but Stevens Point’s intensity forced Lynchburg into bad shots and a 30-20 halftime deficit.

The second half took on an NCAA Tournament atmosphere, complete with vocal cheering sections for both teams, coaches screaming, and players diving all over the court.  Stevens Point maintained a solid lead for much of the half, but it never felt as if the game were in hand.  Every time Lynchburg made a run, Stevens Point hit a three (14 in the game).

Lynchburg finally found the lineup capable of executing a halfcourt pressure defense and tied the contest with 4 minutes remaining.  It was tied twice more before the game ended, but Lynchburg never took the lead, falling 83-73 in what was surely the best game of the weekend.   Sophomore Mark Nelson led the victors with 22 points; Burnett paced Lynchburg with 24.

In the opening game of Day 2, Albright came out with a chip on their shoulder after a poor performance on Friday afternoon. They ran off a 7-0 start before Randolph-Macon called timeout to regroup and regain discipline.  The teams traded leads and baskets the rest of the half, before Albright upped the pressure in the final minute to secure a six point halftime lead.

The Lions built on that momentum in the second half, behind the senior leadership of Omari Ringgold and Calvert Gantz, who had 12 points and 10 rebounds.  Albright slowed the ball down to work the shot clock and take advantage of defensive lapses from the Yellow Jackets and when they sensed some hesitation, used pressure defense to take RMC out of their game plan.  The Jackets hung tough the rest of the game, but were never quite able to make enough progress, losing 73-64.  Daniel Noe led Randolph-Macon with 22 points.

Stevenson and Skidmore both struggled to find consistent offense in their matchup. The real difference is that Stevenson plays mostly freshmen, while Skidmore has an experienced squad (NCAA Tournament second round last year) with a strong backcourt of former All-American senior Aldin Medunjanin and sophomore Edvinas Rupkus, who spent his summer on the Lithuanian U20 team that finished second in the European Championships. It wasn't a pretty performance, but it counts just the same for Skidmore. They won 81-70 to finish the weekend 2-0.

Numbers across the board were similar for both teams, but Skidmore hit a higher percentage of shots, got out to a 14 point halftime lead and held it through the final period.  This young Stevenson squad is growing leaps and bounds with each game, but the upper classmen led today in the loss – senior Michael Byrd and junior Tim McNeal each had 14 points.  Rupkus and senior Royce Paris had 20 a piece for Skidmore.