Ohio is moving on. It demolished Ball State 90-70 in the quarterfinals of the Mid-American Conference Tournament Thursday to improve to 6-1 in MAC Tournament play under head coach Jeff Boals.
“It was good to get the first one,” Boals said. “We earned the opportunity to play another 40-minute game, and I’m proud of our guys.”
This is the second year in a row that Ohio has defeated Ball State in the quarterfinals, and the dominant performance was exactly what Ohio has been building to as it has steadily improved over the course of the season.
More than that, though, it was a coming-out party for A.J. Brown, who scored a career-high 28 points on 10-of-16 shooting and 5-of-10 from beyond the arc in his MAC Tournament debut.
Brown has had his struggles for Ohio this season. The freshman, who received offers from Alabama and Penn State before signing with Ohio, has dealt with multiple shoulder injuries and has been in and out of the rotation all season.
“He’s had an up-and-down year,” Boals said. “I’m just really proud of him for staying positive. His attitude has been unbelievable, he’s a phenomenal young man. At some point, we knew he was going to do this and he’s gonna be a great player for us.”
He has shown flashes of the talent that got him those offers, but Thursday’s performance was something different. Brown was able to take over the game on both ends of the court, especially in the first half, when his 17 points and two steals were the biggest driver behind Ohio’s 22-point halftime lead.
“Especially after that step-back three, I knew it was going to be a great day,” Brown said. “I was feeling it, my teammates found me, I was letting it fly and it just kept falling”
Brown looked like the best player on the court Thursday, and if that continues to be the case, the Bobcats will be a scary team to face in this tournament.
Even outside of Brown, it was just about a perfect game for Ohio. Elmore James scored 11 points and was active on both ends. Jaylin Hunter scored 13, and his eight points in the first five minutes of the second half all but iced the game.
Hunter also had *four assists and didn’t turn the ball over once, while Dwight Wilson III put up yet another double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds on 5-of-8 shooting.
More important than Wilson, James and Hunter, however, was Ohio’s bench. The unit combined for 46 points, with most of those coming from Brown, along with nine points from DeVon Baker.
It was the Bobcats’ bench that changed the game in the first half, as Brown, Baker and A.J. Clayton combined for 28 of the Bobcats’ 54 points in the opening 20 minutes.
“We have more weapons than them,” Wilson said. “We were able to wear them down and get them tired.”
While Brown led the Bobcats in scoring, he also led them in another category: steals.
Ohio had 10 steals Thursday, tied for its second most in a game this season, with three of them coming from Brown.
“It was just activity,” Brown said. “We were very active, we were locked in. We were in the right spots at the right times. Just playing with that grit, playing with that toughness, getting loose balls and making those championship plays.”
Ohio’s offense may have been what jumped off the page Thursday, but its defense was just as important, if not more. And with a matchup against No. 1 Toledo coming on Friday, Ohio is going to need it.