In an unexpected game, with a surprisingly competitive score, it was an unlikely catalyst that sparked the Bobcats in a second-half comeback victory.
Sophomore guard Miles Brown had nine of his career-high 11 points after halftime, and ramped up Ohio’s energy level with on-ball defensive pressure, as the Bobcats needed a 56-point second half to dispatch Purdue Northwest 92-72 in the Convocation Center on Thursday afternoon.
Purdue Northwest, a Division II program, wasn’t on OU’s schedule this season. But with the Bobcats trying to add a game this week – Ohio’s home game vs. Mississippi Valley State on Dec. 18 has canceled due to COVID-19 protocols hampering interstate travel for MVSU – the Pride were the only team contacted that could make it work.
So, on short notice, Purdue Northwest jumped on a bus and rode the six hours to Athens for a mid-day start in a cavernous facility with virtually no one else present. And the Pride made the trip count with a strong showing.
Purdue Northwest led most of the first half, including by as many as eight points, and took a 40-36 lead into the break. With 10 minutes to go, Ohio’s lead was just two. The Bobcats finished the game with a 33-15 run over the final 9:50, but they were in a dogfight most of the way.
“I’m proud of our guys for overcoming some adversity,” Ohio head coach Jeff Boals said afterward. “Not your normal game day routine.
“I thought it was the tale of two halves. I thought they dictated the first half, and I thought we dictated the second half.”
Jason Preston had another brilliant performance with 22 points on 10 of 15 shooting, with 11 assists, three rebounds and five steals. But the OU junior standout said it was Brown, who logged a career-high 28 minutes off the bench, that pushed the Bobcats over the proverbial hump.
With Brown and fellow soph Lunden McDay turning up the defensive pressure, the Pride was forced into 12 second-half turnovers that led to 13 Ohio points. The Bobcats got the tempo flowing, and eventually created a nice cushion.
“(Brown) has always been like that. He’s doing that every day in practice,” said Preston. “He got the game ball today.”
Ohio had five players in double figures. Forward Dwight Wilson III notched his second straight double-double with 17 points and 13 rebounds, and frontcourt teammate Ben Vander Plas added 13 points and seven boards.
McDay finished with 14 points, and scored eight straight in one critical stretch in the second half. With Purdue Northwest within two, at 59-57 with 9:54 left, McDay hit a 3-pointer, converted a free throw then finished off a layup in transition. OU capped a 9-0 run when McDay fed backup big Rifen Miguel for a 3-pointer.
The Pride never got closer than nine points the rest of the way and faded down the stretch.
Jyrus Freels had 19 points and eight rebounds for Purdue Northwest, but the Pride was hurt in the second half when forward Vincent Miszkiewicz (six points, 10 rebounds) fouled out with more than 10 minutes to go.
The Pride played Ohio even for the first 10 minutes before landing an 11-2 run capped by Freels’ layup for a 31-23 lead with six minutes left in the half.
Ohio still trailed 38-31 with less than two minutes left in the half, but finished with a 5-2 spurt capped by Brown’s steal-and-layup combo with 19 tics remaining to pull to within 40-36 at the break.
OU then opened the second half with a 17-3 run, fueled by Brown, Preston and McDay pushing the pace, to forge a 53-43 lead. The Bobcats never trailed again, and there was no doubt who led the charge.
“That’s what the team needs me to do,” said Brown. “I set the tone defensively.
“I thought this was a step forward for our whole team.”
Boals used Brown last season as a stop-gap measure when he needed more ball pressure. With Brown’s offensive game coming along, he’ll have more chances to make an impact like he did Thursday.
“(Brown) was probably the difference in the game from an energy standpoint, effort standpoint,” Boals said. “It really turned the tide defensively.”
Ohio played without sophomore wing Ben Roderick, who sat out with a knee injury. He played just three minutes in OU’s 101-46 win over Cleveland State on Sunday after suffering the non-contact injury.
“It’s progressing well, but with it being December 10th we’re going to take it slow with him,” Boals said.
Freshman forward Sam Towns got the nod in the starting lineup, and finished with two points, four rebounds and two assists in a career-high 15 minutes.
Ohio would still like to add one more nonconference game at some point this month. The Bobcats are scheduled to play at Marshall on Sunday afternoon, but have a potential eight-day break after that one before the Mid-American Conference opener on Dec. 22 at Akron.
In a season that promises to be unlike any other, every team in the country will have be ready to adjust on the fly. The Bobcats did that against a lower division opponent on Thursday.
“We have to be ready for whatever this year,” Brown said, likening the schedule change this week to an AAU summer experience.
“Ohio is going to be ready, I can tell you that.”