Ohio is going to Cleveland.
The Bobcats will head to Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse for the first time since 2017 after they defeated Central Michigan 85-65 on Monday night in The Convo. Ohio will face Akron for the third time this season on Thursday at 12 p.m. for the second-round of the Mid-American Conference Tournament.
That scenario seemed unlikely four months ago.
That’s when Jeff Boals began his first season as coach of Ohio. The Bobcats opened the year with eight freshmen and were a unanimous pick in the preseason coaches poll to finish last in the MAC.
Then, the Bobcats went 5-3 in February and secured a first-round home game with a win over Miami in the final game of the regular season. Ohio finished with an 8-10 MAC record, two wins better than last season under Saul Phillips. The season expectations had already been surpassed.
So there wasn’t too much surprise Monday when No. 8 seed Ohio defeated No. 9 seed CMU, who had just one win in its last 10 games. The Bobcats dominated the floor and shot 31-for-54 from the field. Defensively, Ohio held CMU to shooting 21-for-66 and limited David DiLeo, who’s the MAC’s all-time 3-point leader, to seven points.
Ben Vander Plas, who didn’t play against Miami due to an ankle injury, returned and showed no lingering signs of pain. He finished with 25 points and had had 17 points at halftime, when the Bobcats led 45-23.
He wasn’t alone in powering Ohio’s offense. Jason Preston added to an already illustrious season with 21 points, six rebounds and seven assists.
The Bobcats didn’t dominate the whole game, though. They had a 29-point lead with 15 minutes left but couldn’t stop the Chippewas from cutting their deficit to 10 points with just under three minutes left. Ohio prevented any further damage, but those scoring runs will only be tougher to stop in Cleveland.
Now, the Bobcats’ focus is on beating the Zips. Akron will enter the tournament with the No. 1 seed, but it has struggled against Ohio — the Bobcats lost to the Zips by only two points Jan. 25 and were defeated by seven points March 3.
Ohio has the tools for an upset that could shake up the MAC Tournament.
And there certainly aren’t many doubts about that after its first-round performance against CMU.