Jason Carter isn't used to resting early.
Two minutes into Ohio's game against Ball State, the redshirt fifth year collapsed to the floor after being elbowed in the face. After writhing in pain, Carter got up and walked over to Ohio's bench for a rest.
His injury wasn't serious. Carter was back on the floor in two minutes with little more than some residual throbbing. But that stint on the bench proved to be what the forward needed. After returning to the court, Carter scored six points in just over a minute.
"I just locked in," Carter said. "I got a little early break that I usually don't get, so then I came back in and I was like, 'Alright, let's go.'"
Carter ended the night with 18 points and tied for the game high with Ben Vander Plas. The duo, however, were only on the court for a combined 47 minutes. Neither of them even closed the game out. Carter and Vander Plas, alongside the rest of the starting rotation, spent the majority of the second half watching from the bench as Ohio waxed Ball State 87-63.
They deserved the reprieve. Carter and Vander Plas had been the focal point of a scoring run that buried Ball State beneath The Convo floor.
Over the course of a 13-minute stretch midway through the game, the Bobcats (17-3, 8-1 Mid-American Conference) outscored the Cardinals 30-1 and shuttered any chance of an upset. The Cardinals (10-11, 5-5 MAC) missed 18 consecutive field goal attempts, and they only snapped their scoring drought after Payton Sparks sank a free throw less than a minute into the second half. The Bobcats, on the other hand, were 9-of-19 from the field during that span and played solid defense that only added to the Cardinals' woes.
With 12 minutes remaining in the game, Ohio coach Jeff Boals gave his starters a breather and ran out the remainder of the game by bringing in bench players. The transition was seamless. Ohio's lead never shrank below 23 points in the second half.
"That last eight-minute period, we went on a run and didn't let them score," Boals said. "As a coach, you're always worried about the other team coming out with more intensity, try to do something different from the first half. I thought we sustained it moving forward."
The Bobcats never had to worry about a late surge by the Cardinals. Even when the Cardinals pulled themselves out of their shooting rut, the Bobcats had shut them down long enough to maintain a double-digit lead.
Boals takes pride in Ohio's growth on defense. Ohio has the best turnover margin in the MAC and frequently beats its opponents at the boards. Boals' primary objective has been to throw opponents off-kilter and keep Ohio one step ahead at all times. His plan worked Tuesday. Ohio committed 10 steals and out-rebounded Ball State 40-26.
"I think our half-court defense is elite," Boals said. "We've kind of played the defense that we want. Disruption, taking them out of what they want to do, and I thought our activity on the ball was really good. That's why we're winning at the rate we're winning."
The Bobcats weren't expecting a tug-of-war. The Cardinals were playing their fourth game in eight days Tuesday and have clung to the middle of the conference standings for much of the season. The Bobcats are in the middle of one of the best starts to a season in program history, and they've only lost one conference game thus far.
They may have notched their third-straight win and blown out a middling conference opponent, but the Bobcats are already pivoting toward their next game.
"At the end of the day, we just keep taking it one game at a time, and you don't get focused on all this other stuff," Carter said. "Like the saying we've been using, one game and one possession at a time. We're taking that and rolling with it."