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Ohio University's Jason Preston (0) takes the ball to the basket during the home game against Western Michigan University on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, in Athens, Ohio. 

Men's Basketball: Ohio in a great mood after 81-58 blasting of Western Michigan

As the Bobcats sauntered off the court, their yells of pride echoed through The Convo. Players high-fived and joked with each other loudly. Ben Vander Plas danced in the hall leading to the locker room after chatting with the media. It was the happiest Ohio had felt after a game for a while. 

For once, the puzzle pieces fit. Ohio finally had a positive record in the Mid-American Conference, and it was through the biggest margin of victory since its game against Cleveland State. Even when Jason Preston scored a season-low six points and 3-pointers were almost non-existent during the first half, Ohio pulled out its biggest conference win thus far.

“Especially in the MAC, I feel like 90% of the games are single-digit games,“ Vander Plas said. “So to be able to, especially in the second half, come out and really get a separation away from Western (Michigan), that's always big during MAC play.”

Ohio (9-6, 5-4 MAC) has been smacked around by the top half of the MAC this season, but its 81-58 win over Western Michigan (2-10, 1-6 MAC) gave it a chance to regain some of the confidence it had lost since conference play began. Three of its five conference wins have been decided by 10 points or fewer. A 23-point victory is the shot in the arm that Ohio needed.

The Broncos are easy prey. The first season of a new head coach, a dismal conference and five canceled or postponed games sank the Broncos’ ship before it sailed. But Ohio needed a big win, and when opportunity knocked, it answered.

For most of the season, Ohio has built its offense on its ability to make the long shots. While it’s good to have sharpshooters like Ben Roderick or a leader like Preston, up-close physicality is what provides the 2-pointers. The aggressiveness in the paint shown by the likes of Dwight Wilson III and Mark Sears on Tuesday is what the Bobcats have been lacking. Forty-four of Ohio’s points were scored in the paint.

Sears spent 23 minutes off the bench Tuesday, but not a second of it was wasted. The freshman finished the night with 21 points, beating his season-high performance at Toledo, where he spent three more minutes on the court.

The freshman has grown faster than most of his fellow underclassmen and risen to become Ohio’s go-to scorer off the bench. His progression following his first start has made him more clock-efficient. A season-high 21 points halfway through the season is impressive, but coach Jeff Boals has come to expect performances like Tuesday’s out of the guard.

“If you would ask me that question game one or two when he played I would have said, ‘Yeah,’“ Boals said. “But now, I mean, he's proven he's done it. He's got great finishing ability. His ability to get downhill just adds a whole different dimension to our offense.”

After Sears nailed a 3-pointer with three minutes left in the game, Boals subbed in his younger players. The Bobcats were ahead of the Broncos by a country mile, and the underclassmen needed experience. As the clock winded down, the Bobcats’ bench rose to their feet. A big win over a conference opponent had put a collective smile on the Bobcats’ faces. 

Tuesday closed out with an Ohio bench that took every opportunity to go nuts. Mason McMurray made a layup to yells of encouragement from his teammates. Jalen White made his first career free throw, and the sideline rang with cheers.

For the first time in a while, the Bobcats weren’t in a good mood. They were in a great mood.

@thejackgleckler

jg011517@ohio.edu

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