Maryville College learned the destination of the program's 20th NCAA Tournament bid on Monday afternoon, as the Scots will travel to Marietta, Ohio to face the host Pioneers.
Maryville earned an automatic bid via their second-consecutive USA South Athletic Conference Tournament crown, while Marietta College was forced to rely on an At-Large postseason berth.
"It's amazing," senior guard Kaleb Estes said. "It's truly a blessing in my eyes. To be able to go back another year after we went last year, it's just a great feeling. It's just a blessing and a true testament to our hard work. We wouldn't be here if we didn't work hard and believe that we could do it. We started off slow, but we're starting to figure it out now."
New Jersey City University will take on Arcadia University at 5 p.m. on Friday, March 1, as the Scots and Pioneers will battle at 8 p.m. The winner of each game will face off in the second round on Saturday, March 2 at 7 p.m.
Maryville had to rally late in both their semifinal and championship games to claim the USA South Title. The squad saw leads of at least 15 in both games dwindle to only four points before late surges secured the victory.
"It says that we can play when we want to," senior Dante Hoppa said. "It's not very fun when you let up in the second half and it becomes an eight-point game to go in the semifinals and the championship, but luckily, we pulled it out. Our top players made some big plays, and even freshman standout Nick Clifton hit two big shots in both of those games. Resiliency is a good work for our team this year. Hopefully, we keep it going."
MC has proven resilient all season, as the Scots started off the year with a 1-4 record through five games.
"It shows our character," Estes said. "We're hard-working guys. We don't give up for anything, and we believe in ourselves. We believe we can do anything that we put our minds to. That's how we won the conference tournament."
The Scots won 20 of their next 23 games, as they currently hold a six-game streak.
Maryville posted a pair of six-game streaks – including their current march – as well as an eight-game win streak in late January and early February.
"I think the guys understand that it's a new season," Head Coach Randy Lambert said. "What we've done in the past in behind us, and we have to focus on this first round. Taking an early exit last year should motivate them for this season. The coaches will begin breaking Marietta down tonight, and my other assistants will be assigned one of the teams that we could face in the second round. We'll be on the practice floor tomorrow. I'm just thankful I've got two more practices here at home, and then, we'll leave Thursday…It's another week of work that you don't mind."
Marietta College's At-Large berth comes after John Carroll University knocked the Pioneers from the Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament quarterfinals. JCU went on a 5-0 run in the final 17 seconds to overcome a two-point deficit, 82-79.
Marietta was ranked the No. 17 squad in the nation following the completion of the regular season.
"I honestly know nothing about them," Lambert said at Monday's Selection Show. "I had broken Guilford down a little bit, because I thought that is who we were going to play. I honestly know nothing about Marietta. In years past, they've been a man-to-man team, and they have a good draw. There'll be a good crowd there. You never want to have to play on another team's home court, but I guess the good news is that if we can get by them, it will be a neutral floor on the next game."
The Pioneers have a history of packed, loud gymnasium. That has aided Marietta on their home floor this season.
The squad finished in a three-way tie for the OAC regular season championship, as they posted a 13-2 mark inside Ban Johnson Arena.
"I see it's a good place to play, a nice court, and apparently, large crowds," Hoppa said. "Those are the games we like to play in."
Marietta (20-6) comes into the NCAA Tournament averaging 84.0 points per game. The Pioneers shot 45.4 percent from the floor, while knocking down just over nine 3-pointers per contest.
The Ohio opponent averages 40.9 rebounds per contest, outrebounding their foes by 5.7 on average. The squad also shares the ball well, posting 14.2 assists per game.
The Pioneers have a trio of players averaging double-digit scoring in Anthony Wallace (11.6), Jason Ellis (10.9) and Kyle Dixon (10.5), as Dixon and Caleb Hoyng lead the way with 5.5 rebounds per game.
Maryville College (21-7) have tallied 78.2 points per game while shooting 45.1 percent from the floor. MC shot 39.1 percent from beyond the arc, while posting 36.0 and 15.1 rebounds and assists per contest.
Calvin Songster leads the way for MC with 15.2 points and 3.1 assists per game. Hoppa has 13.0 points and 6.0 rebounds, while tournament MVP Emier Bowman tallied 12.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.8 blocks and 2.3 steals on average.
After an early exit last season, the Scots are hoping to rally during the 2019 tournament.
"This being my second time, it feels better than the first time," Hoppa said. "Last year, I think we were just happy to get there, because it was our first experience as a group. This year, I'm hoping, after we won that conference title, I was happy, but let's try to win some games this year. Let's make a run so that our senior year can really have that exclamation point on it."