By Tim Glon
MARIETTA — Senior Nate Burger (Dayton/Alter) scored early and a hobbled senior Ryan Bruns (Chickasaw/Marion Local) scored late as Ohio Northern knocked off No. 24-ranked Marietta 92-86 in the semifinals of the 2018 Ohio Athletic Conference Men's Basketball Tournament against a near-capacity crowd at Ban John Arena.
The third-seeded Polar Bears (19-8 overall) advance to the finals on Saturday night at 7:30 pm at top-seeded John Carroll, while the Pioneers fall to 21-6.
This marks ONU's first appearance in the OAC Tournament since 2006.
Burger was on fire early, scoring Northern's first 15 points of the game and had 17 points in the first 8:43 of the contest. He finished with a game-high 36 points.
Senior Ryan Bruns (Chickasaw/Marion Local), who missed the last three games with a lower leg injury, came off the bench midway through the first half and played a gritty five minutes, scoring four points and giving the Polar Bears a boost.
Bruns then dominated the second half, scoring 20 points total in just 16 minutes of play.
Other Polar Bears played key roles as well, as freshman Brandon Waugh (Columbus/Northland) had 11 points and a game-high seven rebounds and senior Joey DiOrio (Columbus/Watterson) added nine points, all of which came in the second half.
Senior Max Harnett (Kettering/Alter) was a perfect 3-for-3 from the floor and had six points at halftime.
"This was a great team effort tonight," ONU head coach Rich Bensman said. "Nate Burger came out hot right from the start and got us going. Once Marietta started concentrating its defensive effort on him, our other guys stepped up big. Bruns fought through some pain and was huge in the second half.
"Brandon Waugh was terrific with the ball, Daniel Donner and Max Harnett came up big. Joey DiOrio hit some big shots and Austin Allemeier was solid like always. I'm just so proud of how everyone battled tonight and got a win over a very, very talented team."
Anthony Young led four Marietta players in double figures in scoring with 21 points.
Burger's hot start helped ONU build a 44-39 halftime lead.
Northern went on a 9-2 run early in the second half to take a 53-43 lead just 2:26 into the period and DiOrio's three-pointer just ahead of the shot clock buzzer made it 56-45 with 16:42 to play.
But the Pioneers answered with an 8-0 run to get within 56-53 just 1:10 later.
Northern pushed the lead back to 64-56 with 11:20 to go, keyed by a 3-pointer from Waugh and five points from Bruns.
DiOrio nailed a 3-pointer, then followed with a steal and layup to put the Polar Bears back up 72-61 with 8:44 to play.
MC trimmed the deficit to six, but Bruns then scored six consecutive points as the Polar Bears pushed their lead to 80-68 with 4:59 to go.
Bruns scored inside to make it 82-71 and Burger followed with a layup and it was 84-73 with less than three minutes to play.
After a Young 3-pointer, Burger hit a floater in the lane and it was 86-76 with 2:30 to go.
Northern got a stop and Waugh hit a layup with 1:51 left to make it 88-76.
Marietta got within 92-88 with 11 seconds to go, but Bruns nailed a pair of free throws with five seconds to go and DiOrio stole the inbounds pass to ice the victory.
The Polar Bears made 36-of-63 field goals for 57.1 percent and were 10-of-26 from beyond the 3-point arc for 38.5 percent, while the Pioneers made 35-of-70 field goals (50 percent) and were 12-of-29 from 3-point range (41.4 percent).
It is also just the second time in ONU history (and first since 1987-88) that both Ohio Northern's men's and women's teams reached the finals of the OAC Tournament in the same season.