Ohio’s starting five took one last look to the crowd as the standing ovation from the Ohio faithful roared throughout The Convo.
Jason Preston, Jordan Dartis, Lunden McDay, Ben Vander Plas and Sylvester Ogbonda all took to the bench with nearly two minutes left in the second half and for good reason.
In the midst of a blowout, they watched as their teammates and backups made the most of the time that was left. Michael Brown Jr. scored on a flashy layup, and John Tenerowicz hit his first career 3-pointer in the final points of the Bobcats’ 77-46 win over Miami in the 206th meeting between the two schools.
Saturday’s win was more needed than the team could say. Ohio was on a four-game losing streak that started back on Jan. 21 in a nine-point home loss to Toledo.
Since then, it lost by two points to Akron and Northern Illinois, and then suffered an 11-point loss to Ball State.
It had a Tuesday bye before it played Miami, and coach Jeff Boals planned accordingly by telling his team to not come to the gym.
“It’s a long season. It’s a grind, especially when you’ve lost four in a row the way we’ve lost them,” Boals said. “Mentally you can either check out or check in. They never wavered.”
It would’ve been easy for Ohio to check out. The excuses are there: a young team, first-year coach, inexperienced. Instead, it put together its best game.
A sluggish first few minutes were erased when Dartis knocked down his 291st career 3-pointer, which now gives him the most in Ohio program history.
Moments later, the Bobcats generated a 16-0 run with 3-pointers from McDay and Ben Roderick. It wasn’t just the offense, however, that gave the Bobcats the edge.
Miami missed 24 consecutive shots in the first half, and Ohio took advantage as it rattled off shot after shot. The points were coming as frequently as the RedHawks’ missed shots were.
“Good defense, man,” Dartis said. “I think we just kept throwing punches tonight.”
Dartis was quick to credit Preston for the idea to come out and start the game pressing Miami, not because anything on film showed a clear-cut advantage, but because the Bobcats wanted to be aggressive from the start and force Miami to play the Bobcats’ game.
Preston, who finished the game with his first career triple-double and the second-known triple-double in program history on 15 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, forced the turnovers that caused the RedHawks’ offensive blunders.
In turn, it gave the Bobcats the success they have long been searching for over the course of two weeks.
“We just had a really fun and aggressive warmup, and everybody had lots of energy, and I wanted to keep that going by pressing,” Preston said. “When we have a lot of energy and play with a lot of fun, we’re tough to beat.”
Credit the two days off at the beginning of the week for Ohio to maintain that energy. Boals noticed on their first day back at practice that the guys were laughing and smiling, not what you’d necessarily expect for a team that until Saturday had just two conference wins in nine games.
“I had to ask if that was our guys,” Boals joked in reference to the looseness that Ohio showed before tipoff. “They were locked in on this game.”
It certainly showed. For the first time in conference play, Ohio (11-12, 3-7 Mid-American Conference) simply dominated from start to finish.
It’s been close several times this MAC season in springing out a win, but a series of plays made the differences.
Not on Saturday, though. Ohio made all the plays, and it never looked back, and with eight more games left in conference play, it can make the end half better than the start so long as it plays the way it did Saturday.