Bobcats come up with zilch against Zips in MAC opener

Normally, the Bobcats get to ring in the New Year before getting smacked in the face with a dose of conference basketball reality.

Not so in 2020.

Akron, the defending Mid-American Conference regular-season champion, hammered visiting Ohio 90-70 in a spaced out and largely silent James A. Rhodes Arena on Tuesday afternoon.

Jason Preston had 16 points, seven rebounds and five assists in Ohio’s 90-70 road loss at Akron on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020. Photo courtesy of Ohio Athletics/Blake Nissen

The Bobcats (4-3, 0-1 MAC) never led, and only tied the game twice with the last deadlock coming at 17-17 with just under nine minutes left in the first half. Akron (3-1, 1-0 MAC) shot an absurd 63.6 percent overall and bagged 14 of 25 (56.0 percent) from 3-point range.

In short, the Zips bullied Ohio up and down the court and the Bobcats consented to the treatment.

“The fight wasn’t there to win a game on the road against the defending champion,” Ohio head coach Jeff Boals said afterward.

Akron improved to 12-4 in its last 16 MAC openers, and 8-1 in its last nine conference home openers. Zips coach John Groce improved to 5-2 against his former squad, and Boals fell to 0-3 against the Zips while guiding the Bobcats.

In what used to be the MAC’s hottest rivalry, this rendition was tame and one-sided. Akron led 44-34 at the break after finishing with 13 points in the final 3:10 of the first half.

The Zips opened the second half with a 5-0 spurt, and never saw the lead dip below 12 points the rest of the way.

Akron took a 20-point lead, at 71-51 with just under eight minutes left, and led 85-58 (plus-27) with 2:43 left on Bryan Trimble Jr.’s sixth 3-pointer of the day.

Trimble finished with a game-high 22 points for Akron after going a perfect 6-for-6 from the 3-point arc. Loren Cristian Jackson added 21 points and eight assists, and hit 5-of-10 3s. Maishe Dailey added 16 points and Camron Reece chipped in 10 with eight rebounds. Dailey and Reece were a combined 11-of-13 from the field.

Whatever the Zips wanted to do, they did it.

“They were way too comfortable,” Boals said. “And they were really physical.

“They didn’t let us run what we wanted to.”

Jason Preston had 16 points, seven rebounds and five assists to lead Ohio, but had just six points and two assists in the second half. Dwight Wilson added 11 points, but had a string of three straight double-doubles snapped. Ben Vander Plas also had 11 points, but just three in the second half.

On a positive note, wing Ben Roderick played 22 minutes and had 10 points in his first action since a knee injury on Dec. 6.

It was the kind of one-sided thumping largely absent in Boals’ first season at Ohio. And one the Bobcats may have to stew on for a while. Or maybe not.

Ohio’s next scheduled game, at Miami on Dec. 29, has already been postponed as the RedHawks deal with a COVID-19 outbreak within the program. That means the Bobcats’ next outing isn’t scheduled until Jan. 2 at Ball State.

OU and the MAC are likely cobbling together a fill in game for the week between Christmas and New Year’s, but Boals will worry about that later. His team has dropped two in a row against similar-positioned programs, and has been non-threatening in the second half of both games.

“We need the break,” the coach said.

Ohio players are expected to return to campus on Dec. 26 after heading home, or back to Athens, for the holiday.

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