What do you do when your do-everything point guard is sidelined for a second consecutive game with injury?
If you’re Jeff Boals, you simply turn to your next do-everything point guard.
Freshman Mark Sears, in his first road start and just the second of his college career, posted a career-high 18 points and added six rebounds, eight assists and three steals to help spark Ohio to a 78-68 road win over Ball State on Saturday afternoon at Worthen Arena in Muncie, Ind.
Sears finished with two turnovers in 35 minutes, and dominated stretches in the first half, as the Bobcats (5-4, 1-2 Mid-American Conference) snapped a three-game losing skid, and posted both their first league victory and first road win of the year in one swoop.
“It was another phenomenal performance (by Sears),” said Boals, Ohio’s head coach, in a postgame radio interview. “He’s getting to be a stat-sheet stuffer for us.”
Sears is averaging 13.5 points and has a combined 17 assists against 4 turnovers in his pair of starts. The freshman from Muscle Shoals, Ala. is playing big minutes as junior Jason Preston missed his second straight game with an unspecified lower body injury.
Preston made the trip to Muncie and was seen during the broadcast of the game, but did not suit up. Boals continued to be cagey when discussing the injury, only saying in a pregame interview that “nothing’s changed” regarding Preston’s status.
“He’s not where he needs to be, and we’re not sure when it’ll be.”
In the interim, Sears and sophomore wing Ben Roderick picked up the Bobcats in a big spot on Saturday. Roderick netted a game-high 20 points, and connected on 6-of-9 from 3-point range. Ohio had five players in double figures, with just two bench points, as the team stitched together as good a 40-minute performance as it’s enjoyed in a month.
“It’s just next man up,” Roderick said in a postgame interview on CBS Sports Network. “And (Sears) is going a great job.”
Dwight Wilson III and Ben Vander Plas each scored 14 points, and Lunden McDay chipped in 10 points for Ohio, which played with the lead for more than 38 of the 40 minutes.
Ball State (4-4, 2-1 MAC) only led twice, and not at all in the first half. The Bobcats crushed the first 10 minutes and led 26-11 after Sears converted a jumper in the lane with 10:07 to go.
Ishmael El-Amin had 18 points to lead the Cardinals, and he scored 14 in the first half. Ball State had eight 3s in the first half, and El-Amin’s triple on the Cards’ last possession cut the deficit to 42-37 at the break.
Ball State tied it 46-46 after five minutes in the second half, and took two leads – at 48-47 and 50-49 – with more than 13 minutes left.
But Vander Plas splashed home a 3-pointer to make it 52-50, then added a pretty layup off a baseline spin on the next possession to make it 54-50 and Ohio never trailed again.
The Cards tied it 60-60 with 7:30 left on Miryne Thomas’ dunk, but Sears carved out a 3-point play on a drive to the left side of the rim. On the next trip down the floor, Sears fed Roderick for a straight on 3-pointer.
The two plays opened the gates on a 14-4 run that Ohio used to wrap it up.
“What a great way to start the new year,” Boals said. “The letdown…was not there.”
Thomas added 17 points and eight rebounds for Ball State, and Brachen Hazen chipped in 10. But leading scorer K.J. Walton, average more than 19 points per game, was held to eight points on 3-of-9 shooting.
The Cards hit 8-of-15 from 3 in the first half, but were just 1-of-10 from the arc in the second.
“We thought we were capable of playing like this,” Roderick said. “It just takes us playing this way for a full 40 minutes.”
Ohio is scheduled to host Northern Illinois in the Convo on Tuesday. The Bobcats may enter without the services of Preston, but won’t be carrying the baggage of a losing skid or the doubt it can win without him.