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Ohio’s Alesia Howard pushes through Kent State’s defenses to go for the shot. The Bobcats defeated the Golden Flashes 58-40 in the first round of the Mid-American Conference Tournament. (Brien Vincent | Staff Photographer)

Women's Basketball: Dominant 1st half helps Ohio advance in MAC tournament

As a redshirt senior, Tenishia Benson had plenty of reasons to be nostalgic after Ohio’s win against Kent State in the final home game of the season Saturday.

But instead of reflecting on her college years, her mind journeyed back to middle school.

That’s the last time she played for a team that allowed only eight points in one half — a feat that the Bobcats accomplished for the first time in more than 20 years against the Golden Flashes in the first round of the Mid-American Conference Tournament.

Eighth-seeded Ohio (14-17) built a 26-point halftime lead and cruised to a 58-40 win against ninth-seeded Kent State (6-21), ending the Golden Flashes’ season in the process. The Bobcats advance to the tournament’s second round and will play Central Michigan Wednesday in Cleveland.

“They did not want to be denied in getting to Cleveland,” coach Semeka Randall said. “It was a collective team effort.”

That effort began with defense. After Kent State grabbed an early lead on a 3-pointer to open the scoring, the team managed only five points during the next 19 minutes.

Ohio got busy from beyond the 3-point line, as the team netted seven of its 13 attempts from long range in the first half. Junior point guard Ashley Fowler and freshman guard Mariah Byard each contributed three triples.

Benson paced the Bobcats with a double-double as she finished with 14 points and 14 rebounds. She said giving her all during the tournament is easier for a senior who has nothing to hold back.

“It’s one of those cliff things — completely just jumping,” Benson said. “It’s a lot easier to jump when you really don’t have anywhere else to go.”

Fowler also passed the 500-point plateau on a 3-pointer with a minute to go in the first half to give Ohio its 34-8 lead heading into the locker rooms.

Fowler said she was unaware of the mark, and that the team’s focus is on Wednesday’s contest on a neutral court.

“We talked about this is a tournament game, but it kind of had that regular-season feel because it’s going to be totally different in Cleveland,” she said.

Kent State’s struggles to defend against Ohio led to frustration on offense. Though the Bobcats’ defense limited the Golden Flashes’ open looks, the visiting team also missed a number of easy shots.

“They had a couple open shots that they missed because we were being overly aggressive,” Fowler said. “We made them play super fast.”

Ohio now heads to Cleveland, where the Bobcats have not won a MAC Tournament game since 2009. They have not won multiple games in one postseason during Randall’s tenure as coach.

“We’ve got to make it comfortable,” Benson said. “It is a foreign place for this program, and so we kind of have to make it home. In order to make it official, you’ve got to make it more than one day.”

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