After sitting out the last four games due to a lower leg injury, it only took Jason Preston 15 seconds to impact Tuesday night's game.
Preston, showing no signs of his injury, stole a pass from Miami’s James Beck and quickly advanced the ball to Ben Roderick in the corner for a 3-pointer. Once Ohio took the lead, it never looked back, defeating archrival Miami for the fourth-straight time 78-61 at The Convo.
In 32 minutes of play, Preston totaled 10 points, eight assists and six rebounds. Ohio coach Jeff Boals said that Preston was a bit winded after the game and would need a few more to find his endurance. Preston, however, felt great to finally be back with his teammates.
“It was great to be back out there,” Preston said. “I felt pretty good.”
Preston looked pretty good in his return and so did the Bobcats. After Friday’s 95-78 beatdown at Toledo, Ohio came into The Battle of the Bricks with a desire to shut the RedHawks down. Communication was much stronger, and 25 of the Bobcats’ points came off forced Miami turnovers.
“I told our guys we were dead last in the MAC (Mid-American Conference) in defense,” Boals said. “And in order to win a championship, you got to defend and rebound.”
It’ll take more than one performance for Ohio (7-5, 3-3 MAC) to become championship contenders, but Tuesday night was a strong start. Ben Roderick led all scorers with 20 points, most coming from his six three pointers. Ben Vander Plas, who’s struggled as of late, followed Roderick with 15. Many of Ohio’s points came off of the 23 assists the team had. You could say Preston’s return put everyone in a sharing mood.
“He (Preston) loves to get us guys involved,” Roderick said. ”When passing is contagious on this team, everyone wants to be unselfish and make the extra pass, and if we do that, we get great shots and we hit them tonight.”
Ohio shot 57.4% from the field (31-54) and 47.8% from 3-point range (11-23). It’s going to be hard to stop the Bobcats when they’re firing those numbers. Miami tried its best to keep pace with the Bobcats early on and even trailed by only three with 2:09 in the first half, but once Boals instituted a small ball lineup of Preston, Roderick, Vander Plas, Miles Brown and Mark Sears, the RedHawks couldn’t deal with the Bobcats spacing.
After a 6-0 run pushed the Bobcats lead to 38-29 at the half, time literally ran out on Miami (4-4, 1-2 MAC).
Early in the second half, following a 10-0 run by the Bobcats, the shot clock on Miami’s basket went out. After several minutes trying to get it back on, crew officials decided to just turn off Ohio’s shot clock and continue with the game. The extra breather gave Ohio time to lock in even more and keep the pressure on the RedHawks.
“It’s still pretty important because they’re our rival, and it can kind of raise your level a little bit,” Roderick said. “Getting this win three straight time is a great feeling, and I just want to continue to do that.”
Roderick’s beaten the RedHawks all three times he’s played Miami, but Tuesday’s win actually increased Ohio’s streak for four-straight over the RedHawks. Despite the limited crowd, there was still a special energy in the air. The return of Preston probably knocked up the excitement a few notches.
“I really wanted to play tonight,” Preston said. “I was clear with everybody so if I can play, I can play.”
Preston’s return could be the spark Ohio needs to get into the mix with the MAC’s best. The Bobcats return to The Convo on Saturday to face Kent State at 2 p.m.