Marietta is back in the Sweet 16, but the Pioneers aren't satisfied.
"It's great to be back, but we have to take that next step. This group has got the ability to do that too," said Marietta coach Jon VanderWal, following the Pioneers' 88-76 victory over Arcadia in the second round of the NCAA Division III Men's Basketball Tournament at Ban Johnson Arena Saturday night.
"Whoever we play next week, we have to have the same focus and same determination that we did this week," VanderWal continued. "We really want to get to the Final Four, but right now it's one game at a time. I know this group can do it and I know what they are capable of. We like our chances and prepare like we always do and let it go rip come next Friday."
Marietta (22-6) will play Oswego State (24-5), who knocked off Baldwin Wallace 75-71 in the second round. Next weekend's site has yet to be determined by the NCAA. Marietta is making its fourth appearance in the Sweet 16, and another tournament win will match the 2014-15 squad the advanced to the Elite 8.
Marietta's last Sweet 16 appearance came during the 2016-17 season when the Pioneers were upset at home by Rochester, 85-80.
"My sophomore year we were at this point and lost to Rochester," said senior Anthony Wallace, who led all scorers with 20 points. "It's nice to have this moment at Ban Johnson with these fans."
Marietta punched its ticket to the next round because of strong bench play and converting 16 offensive rebounds into 17 points. The Pioneers' bench outscored the Knights' bench 49-28, and Marietta scored 16 points off of Arcadia turnovers.
"Every offensive rebound that they got they turned it into points," said Arcadia coach Justin Scott. "That was the difference in the game."
Sophomore Kyle Matoszkia had a second straight strong performance off of the bench as he pulled down a game-best 12 rebounds to go with seven points. Junior Caleb Hoyng added 15 points and six rebounds after a slow start.
"I think I missed my first three or four shots," he said. "I just got confidence from the guys on the bench. They kept telling me to shoot it. They know I'm a good shooter and I know I'm a good shooter."
Senior guard Keith Richardson scored 13 points in just 11 minutes off of the bench, while fellow seniors Kyle Dixon (nine points and five rebounds) and Mel Shuler (eight points and five assists) had nice outings.
"We've got some good guys that we're bringing off the bench. We've said all year long that's what will make this group special," VanderWal said. "Every team is different and this year's group, I think what makes them really good is our depth. We're kind of a relentless group that kind of keeps coming at you. … It really helped us out this weekend in this tournament."
Despite an early exit from last week's Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament, VanderWal was especially pleased with the focus of his players coming into the NCAAs.
"I thought our guys were dialed in and knew what kind of actions they were going to run," VanderWal said. "We fouled way too much. We have to learn how to play defense without reaching. Our guys were dialed in and had a great weekend and I'm so proud of them."
Both coaches were concerned with the 57 total fouls.
"I didn't think it was that physical. I thought if you touched a guy they were going to call it tonight," VanderWal said. "To the ref's credit tonight, I guess, they were consistent. We didn't do a very good job of adjusting. We just kept hand checking and reaching in, and a lot of those fouls were fouls."
Scott added, "I think when you get to this stage you have to let the guys play. Best players on the floor to make plays."
Marietta only trailed after the first basket when Arcadia senior Evan Slone made a layup. Following sophomore Tim Kreeger's two foul shots the game was tied. Later, freshman Lukas Isaly made a foul shot that gave Marietta a 5-4 lead and the Pioneers never gave up the lead.
Arcadia (23-6) kept the game close until the final 5:48 of the first half. That's when Marietta went on a 17-6 run to build a 16-point lead on Hoyng's foul shots.
The Pioneers came out strong in the second half and increased their lead to as many as 23 following a Wallace jump shot and foul shot made the score 63-40 with 15:42 to play.
"I thought the first four minutes (of the second half) was really big," VanderWal said. "I think we made our first four or five shots to start the second half, and that took a 14-point lead up to that 18- to 20-point range. Getting off to a good start in the second half I think was a big momentum for us."
Sophomore guard Da'kquan Davis led Arcadia with 16 points and six rebounds, while senior Phil Pierfy added 12 points and six rebounds. Senior Josh Scott had 11 points.
"Obviously it hurts. It will probably hurt for a day, or probably a few days," Pierfy said. "But then we'll be able to look back and look at everything we accomplished. Just look at the atmosphere we got to play in tonight, and the team and the program we got to play against, and we showed that we can compete."
Scott added, "We've done a lot of program firsts. Set the record for school wins with 23. Won the first conference championship in school history. First NCAA Tournament appearance and first win in the tournament. It's been a great year. I told the guys in the locker room that they have nothing to be ashamed of. They are going to look back on this in five to 10 years and see where the program is and really know that they had a hand in that."