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Ohio Sophomore Mark Sears (1) goes up for a layup against Kent St. on Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. The Bobcats won the game 80-72.

Men's Basketball: Ohio bends but doesn't break to shut down Kent State

Since its season began, Ohio has worked its entire philosophy around four words: Bend, but don’t break.

The phrase has become a staple answer for the Bobcats during postgame press conferences. Through a seven-game winning streak, the Bobcats have had the same problem appear like clockwork. They build a massive lead in the first half, only to slow down and work on damage control while their opponents surge after halftime.

But despite the recurring problem, the words have rung true. The Bobcats are on their longest winning streak since the 2012-13 season, and they’ve beaten their Mid-American Conference opponents to the top of the conference standings. 

After Ohio beat Kent State 80-72 on Friday, coach Jeff Boals reiterated the phrase. Boals recognized that losing leads has become an unfortunate trend, and Friday was no different. Kent State went on an 11-0 run late in the second half and was one possession away from taking the lead.

But the Bobcats didn’t break.

“We've done what we've kind of done, let teams back into it,“ Boals said. “We bent but we didn't break, made some big plays down the stretch ... everyone who played contributed in some type of way.”

Ohio (12-2, 3-0 MAC) wasn’t scared. Its original double-digit lead had been bolstered by Ben Vander Plas, who shook off a shooting skid that had plagued him since Ohio’s winning streak began. Over his previous six games, he averaged nine points per game, shot 32.2% from the field and 14.3% from beyond the arc. Vander Plas was well aware of those numbers, and they lingered in the back of his mind. 

But he found a rhythm. The redshirt senior ended the game with a season-high 20 points. He drained 3s with ease and shot 66.7% from beyond the arc. Even with his right shoulder still wrapped in gauze following a minor injury on Tuesday, Vander Plas broke his dry spell.

“Been a rough couple games, a little bit of a drought,“ Vander Plas said. “I just stayed in the gym shooting. Everybody’s telling me to shoot. It’s just a confidence thing and they were falling tonight, so it felt good to see some go through the hoop.”

The forward wasn’t the only one who’d had a strong night. Mark Sears, Ohio’s tried-and-true offensive leader, blew out Kent State with 28 points, six rebounds and three assists. The sophomore has scored 20 points or more in his last five games, and he’s yet to record less than 10 points in a game this season.

Sears is the scoring leader of the MAC for good reason. When the rest of the Bobcats hit a lull in their shooting, Sears can resuscitate the offense. After the Golden Flashes began their rally late in the second half, Sears knocked down a jumper to put the Bobcats back into a two-possession lead. 

The sophomore stopped Kent State dead in its tracks. In the final three minutes of the game, Kent State went 1-for-6 on field goal attempts.

“At the end of games when it's getting a little close, Mark just always finds a way to hit just the toughest bucket possible and just kind of get that lead spread out a little bit,“ Vander Plas said. “He's been really, really big for us just doing everything. Scoring, passing, defending, being a leader. He's been doing a lot of really, really good things for us and it's been a fun year with him.”

The Bobcats’ recent success hasn’t come easy, but they’re not complaining. They’re undefeated both in the MAC and when playing in The Convo, and they’ve put a seventh notch in their winning streak. The Bobcats have been tested over the past month. Massive leads have been trimmed to single-digit margins of victory, and easy wins on paper turned into dogfights on the court. 

Still, their record doesn’t lie. The Bobcats haven’t broken yet.


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