Scott: GLI off to a great start

Ryan Boll was nearly unstoppable on Saturday night, scoring 39 points against Marietta in the finale of the Great Lakes Invitational.
Photo by Nate Knobel, Marietta athletics

By Ryan Scott

Marietta knows how to throw a party.

It might be a sleepy river town, nearly three hours from a major airport, but on a Saturday night, with 1200 people packed, standing room only into the Ban Johnson Center, things can get a little rowdy. The eighth and final game of the inaugural Great Lakes Invitational Tournament was headed to overtime, with the host Pioneers and St. Thomas Tommies locked at 76-all, and O Fortuna blasting at 150 decibels.

Marietta hadn’t played the same stellar basketball that helped them crush Hope the night before, but what the Pioneers brought was pretty good. St. Thomas, with the starting backcourt in sweats on the bench, relied on forward Ryan Boll, who answered with 39 points on the night, but came up just a shot short.

"It was one of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen in this building,” said Marietta coach Jon VanderWal, “He only hit one three all of last year, but he did nothing but take perimeter shots tonight.” Boll was 4-4 from deep, to go along with 11 rebounds, six assists, and no turnovers in 43 minutes.

The Tommie lineage is a long and illustrious one, so nobody was exactly surprised that they rose to the occasion. But this is one of the least likely UST squads to put on such a performance, especially on the opening weekend of the season. Only two of the ten St. Thomas players who saw court time at the Great Lakes Invitational had ever played a meaningful minute of college ball. You could literally see them maturing over the course of the weekend.

In the end, Marietta prevailed 85-83 in what felt like an NCAA Tournament contest, complete with drama, emotion, and incredible performances, but really, everybody in attendance was a winner last weekend.

Eight incredible teams from a variety of regions battled hard and learned a lot about themselves and the road ahead – from a very young, travel-weary Birmingham-Southern, going from Alabama to Mississippi to Ohio and playing three games in four days, to Hope having to replace senior point guard Dante Hawkins on the fly after a wrist injury minutes into the season, to Dickinson correcting mistakes from Friday to Saturday and walking out of the weekend with heads held high.

Getting eight top teams in one location for a weekend is a terribly difficult thing to pull off well and tournament director Ryan Whitnable should be proud of the effort. What started as a dream could not have come off better. The teams had nothing but praise for the experience and the competition.

Mt. St. Joseph certainly didn’t have the weekend they expected to have, but with a senior-laden line-up, they have the experience and discipline to right the ship moving forward. Hope was exactly the opposite, relying on newcomers to recover from a halftime deficit against St. John Fisher to win and look like a classic Hope squad in the process. The ceiling for the Flying Dutchmen may be higher than most of us expected going into the season.

Wittenberg provided a glimpse into their future, with a lot of talented freshmen and sophomores starring in a 2-0 weekend. While Birmingham-Southern took a beating, their young players learned the hard way what top level competition looks like. “This is why we come to these tournaments,” said BSC coach, Chris Graves, “We want to show our guys the level required to compete the way we want to compete.”

Dickinson and St. John Fisher rounded out the line-up and achieved mixed success. These are veteran teams (at least in terms of playing experience), who played at a high level and still performed below their own high expectations for themselves. Still, to think these squads are mediocre really speaks to the level of talent the Great Lakes Invitational was able to attract.

The tournament was a resounding success, though, and will continue next year at Hope in a modified format, with the eight team version returning in 2019. As we look to the probable return of the Hoopsville Classic as well, these eight team tournament with national scope will continue to be the venue for championship contenders to prove their mettle and bump the SOS for years to come.