OXFORD – Jason Preston missed his second free throw, and instead of watching or waiting for someone else to grab the loose ball, he drove to the block and secured it himself.
With the ball in his right hand, he took two dribbles and hurled up another successful 3-pointer.
The sophomore guard dominated down the stretch in Ohio’s come-from-behind 67-65 win over Miami on Friday night at Millett Hall.
Preston’s 3-pointer with 1:56 left in the game tied the score 63-63. He scored seven of the Bobcats’ 10 points to come back against the RedHawks. A euro-step in the lane, a shifty cut for another finish in the paint. It wasn’t anything new for him — it was what he was supposed to do.
“It was now or never,“ Preston said. “We knew what we had to do coming in and there was no other choice.”
What they knew they had to do coming into Friday’s game was simple. They had to win.
A win secured the Bobcats a first-round home game in the Mid-American Conference Tournament. For them, the comfort of home is everything.
Ohio hadn’t won a road game since Jan. 18, but on the season it went 11-5 at home. For a team that has been injury-ridden since before the season started, the benefits of playing in The Convo are more than merely just home court advantage.
“If you win, you don’t have to worry about other teams helping you out,“ coach Jeff Boals said. “I think more than anything we’re playing at a high level right now.”
Certainly a team that started off its conference schedule with just two wins in nine tries, to close out the season six-of-nine has transitioned from inexperienced freshmen to confident young talent.
The Bobcats won three out of their final four games of the season, all in unique fashion. A comeback against Miami, a full 40-minute performance against Kent State and an offensive showcase against Buffalo. Those three performances all have shown that who Ohio was at the beginning of the season doesn’t matchup with the now No. 8 seed in the MAC Tournament.
“I think the guys are making plays,“ Boals said in regard to how Ohio’s confidence levels have grown.
The guys making plays haven’t always been Preston or Ben Vander Plas or Jordan Dartis, but the freshmen that Boals has brought in.
Preston missed a shot and Miles Brown crashed the lane for the game-winning putback. Lunden McDay had six offensive rebounds that created chances for Ohio against the RedHawks. Ben Roderick, who struggled early in the game, made two 3-pointers that continued to fuel the Bobcats offensive drive.
Brown finished with just four points on the night, but his defensive prowess forced RedHawks’ shooters to take uncomfortable shots as Ohio was surging on its own momentum. The freshman came off the bench in relief of anyone who needed it. Dartis played, but was limited. Vander Plas sat on the bench in a walking boot. The Bobcats’ big-men, Sylvester Ogbonda and Nolan Foster, were in foul trouble.
So whenever Brown was on the court, he made it count.
“When a guy is down, another player has to step it up,“ he said. “This time it was me.”
A team filled with confident, young players, Ohio now will begin its first MAC Tournament run under Boals. It’s spent the better part of the final few weeks of the regular season ignoring the tournament and focusing instead on what was directly in front of it.
Now, it’s one final game in The Convo and an opportunity to reach Cleveland for the first time since the 2016-17 season.
“It’s a new season,“ Boals said. “The intensity level ramps up every move you make. We went from nonconference to league play and we weren’t ready for that. Everyone’s playing for a championship right now, it’s a one-bid league this year so why not us?”
Ohio’s run at a MAC Championship will start Monday in The Convo with a tipoff time to be announced.