Ohio welcomed Northern Illinois to The Convo on Tuesday night with hopes of securing a second-straight Mid-American Conference win despite neither team being at full strength.
The Bobcats were without starting point guard Jason Preston for a third-straight game and the Huskies were led by interim coach Lamar Chapman after NIU head coach Mark Montgomery was fired two days before the game.
Neither team looked their best in the first half, but thanks to a 25-point performance by Dwight Wilson, Ohio was able to notch tougher-than-expected 76-73 victory and improve to .500 in conference play.
Here are The Post’s instant reactions to Ohio’s (6-4, 2-2 MAC) win over the Huskies on Tuesday.
No Preston? No problem.
Teams tend to struggle without their best scorers and passers on the court, so hopes weren’t the highest when Jason Preston, the Bobcats’ leader in points per game and assists, went down with a lower leg injury in practice last week.
Preston’s injury has a silver lining, though. With the junior on the bench, freshman point guard Mark Sears has shown the skill he displayed as a highly-touted recruit out of Hargrave Military Academy.
Sears finished Tuesday’s game with 12 points and seven assists. And was able to help give the Bobcats a 42-31 halftime lead by driving through the chests of his Huskie defenders. Despite being one of the shortest players on the court at 6-foot-1, Sears showed no fear driving inside and going up against defenders towering over him.
Sears entered the game averaging 15 minutes a game. In the last three contests he’s averaged over 30. Those minutes won’t go down too much when Preston eventually returns. Ohio coach Jeff Boals praised Sears’ play on Monday and even stated that when Preston returns he’ll find a way to make the two work together at the same time.
Test the depth
The 2020-2021 season has not been the kindest to Ohio’s reserves. With matchups like Mississippi Valley State and Rio Grande being canceled and schedule changes that set Ohio up with Akron and Bowling Green, — two of the conferences’ best teams — to start conference play, Boals hasn’t been able to test the depth of his young roster.
Lowly Northern Illinois ( 1-8, 0-4 MAC) provided the perfect opportunity.
Sam Towns and Rifen Miguel both saw their first court time since the Akron game on Dec. 20 and Mason McMurray got in the game for a bit as well. With the uncertainty that the COVID-19 pandemic presents, depth for a team could be more important than ever.
But with Boals you don’t build depth without trust. Players like Sears, Collin Granger and Miles Brown have earned Boals faith and more playing time. Games like this offer Towns, Miguel and McMurray to acquire the trust in Boals that will lead to more opportunities in the future.
The wrath of Zool
If there was anyone that gave the Bobcats the most trouble it was reserve guard Zool Kueth. Kueth dropped 22 points on the Bobcats and was (insert) from 3-point range. Kueth gave the Bobcats the most headaches in the final minutes of the game when three 3-pointers in the span of mere minute cut the Bobcats double-digit lead to three.
Ohio did everything it could to keep the ball out of Kueth’s hands with the game on the line and luckily for the Cats, they survived their run-in with Kueth.