CLEVELAND— Ohio was on the bus when coach Bob Boldon announced to the team that the Mid-American Conference closed the tournament to the general public. The Bobcats learned that only their families would be in attendance and the crowd would be small.
Ohio’s crowd, however, was much larger than expected in the 84-75 win in the first round of the MAC Tournament on Wednesday.
The Bobcats filled about 25 more seats than Western Michigan in the nearly empty Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse thanks to the men’s basketball team.
The men, who play on Thursday, were a constant source of energy. With loud “defense” chants and numerous attempts to start the wave, Ohio was able to make Cleveland feel a lot more like Athens.
“It was cool having both the women’s team and the men’s team here,” said Nate Springs, a freshman forward. “That’s a big deal. Being able to cheer for them and support them, that was big.”
After the final buzzer, the Ohio players went over and celebrated with the men crowding the front row. Katie Barker walked behind Springs and shouted “hype man of the year!”
The energy supplied a huge third quarter for the Bobcats offense, which put up 25 points and extended the lead to seven entering the final period.
“I think we create our own energy,” senior Amani Burke said. “Having the men’s team there, they were loud the whole game. I think that definitely gave us some spark.”
Burke was a main source for Ohio with 17 second-half points. She played aggressively and gave a huge offensive boost with Cece Hooks in foul trouble.
The Broncos noticed the difference and missed the fans that usually pick them up when they’re in a slump.
“We missed our band,” Western Michigan forward Breanna Mobley said. “When you get in a little slump, and then you have your band and your cheerleaders cheering you on. I mean that always helps the momentum.”
The men’s team, however, provided all the energy for Ohio. They created an atmosphere that heavily favored the Bobcats, and Springs is confident that favor will be returned as they take on top-seeded Akron in the quarterfinal.
“Having the fans in the arena when you’re playing, that’s a big thing,” Springs said. “When you don’t have that, it makes you appreciate them a lot more. It’ll be good to have them back here cheering for us like we just did for them.”
The Bobcats will hope to turn the success over from the women to the men, and there were a lot of good things the women did that the men need to replicate against Akron.
“They shared the ball, they played as a team and just when they play good team basketball, they win games by a lot,” Springs said. “Western Michigan was a pretty good team, but they’re not better than us.”
It was the notion of “us” that made Wednesday’s quarterfinal so special.
When Ohio advanced to Friday’s semifinal, it did it as the whole basketball program, and that program can take another huge step Thursday if the men’s team delivers an upset win over the Zips.