Roderick finding his range as OU hosts reeling NIU

Don’t get it twisted, Jeff Boals always knew Ben Roderick was a good shooter.

But, of late, Roderick has become a shot-maker.

“Ben is one of those kids who can make tough shots,” Boals said Monday about Roderick, a 6-5 sophomore out of Powell, Ohio. “A lot of people get bothered by a hand up, or a (shot) contest.

“Ben? It doesn’t faze him.”

Ohio men’s basketball coach Jeff Boals, seen here on Dec. 6, 2020, will try to get the Bobcats a home win on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021 against Northern Illinois. Photo courtesy of Ohio Athletics/Blake Nissen

Roderick, averaging 18.0 points in the last two games, has canned 10 of his last 19 3-pointers. His accuracy will be needed again Tuesday when Ohio (5-4, 1-2 Mid-American Conference) hosts Northern Illinois (1-7, 0-3 MAC) in the Convo for a 6 p.m. start.

The Bobcats are expected to play a third straight game without the services of junior point guard Jason Preston, who continues to miss time with an unspecified lower body injury. Boals said Monday that Preston is “progressing” but still has not yet returned to practice.

Roderick is one reason why OU has been able to split the two previous games.

A lefty with a smooth stroke, Roderick has been locked in of late and has been more aggressive in looking for his shot with Preston out of the mix. The Bobcats need everyone to do a little more, and Roderick is delivering.

“I think he’s really in a good groove right now,” Boals said. “We need him to be. As a shot maker – which I never really was – when you hit a couple shots like that you get confidence. (Roderick) is very capable of doing that for us.”

To this point, Roderick’s collegiate career has been marked by starts and stops. A knee injury delayed the start of his first season, and then a hand injury midway through 2019-20 set him back. He finished his first year averaging 6.0 points per game in 25 appearances with five starts, and shot 36.7 percent from 3-point range.

This season, Roderick is averaging 11.9 points a game, and his recent hot streak has pushed his 3-point shooting percentage up to 47.6 percent. While he shot just 36.1 percent overall last season – making just 12 of 35 2-point shots all year – he’s at 53.6 percent overall this season (10 of 14 on 2s).

And the uptick has come despite another knee setback, which cost him two full games and the majority of a third in early to mid December.

Roderick said there’s no secret to his recent success. It’s the expected result of hard work.

“Just getting shots up every day in practice, before and after. Working every day. It’s showing up in games,” Roderick said.

Sure, there’s work left to do. He can be a better rebounder and defender. He’s still not punishing defenders who fly at him at the arc with a pull-up, or driving, game. But for now, he’s giving Ohio another dependable scoring option to go with veteran forwards Dwight Wilson III (15.3 ppg) and Ben Vander Plas (12.4). It’s particularly needed at the moment with Preston out.

“Being able to shoot the ball, I can add more to my game and it’ll make me more of a better player,” he added. “It’s next man up.”

For the Huskies, it’s next coach up. NIU administration dumped head coach Mark Montgomery on Sunday morning after the Huskies lost at home, 68-42, to Bowling Green on Saturday.

Montgomery, 50, was hired at NIU on March 24, 2011 and posted a 124-170 record while trying repeatedly to build the Huskies into a MAC contender. Montgomery, who played at Michigan State and later spent 10 years on Tom Izzo’s staff, had his best season in 2015-16 with a 21-13 record.

Associate head coach Lamar Chapman will lead NIU the rest of the season on an interim basis, and will call the shots for NIU on Tuesday in the Convo.

Boals, who had Chapman on his staff at Stony Brook for one season, said the sudden change won’t lead to any difference in game prep for the Bobcats. The Huskies won’t have time to reinvent the wheel in three days.

“You don’t know what goes on behind the scenes, but you let someone go three games into MAC play…it’s an interesting timing decision,” Boals said.

“I’ve told people this a couple of times about coaching: It’s a great job and it’s a really messed up profession.”

NIU enters as the worst offense in the MAC. The Huskies average just 57.1 points per game and are shooting a conference-worst 38.2 percent overall, and a staggeringly bad 21.2 percent from 3-point range.

Guards Tyler Cochran (13.8 ppg), Darius Beane (11.9) and Trendon Hankerson (11.6) give NIU three double-digit scorers, but an interior presence has been hard to find.

The Huskies, however, have won four straight against Ohio. The last Bobcat win came on Jan. 6, 2018 (78-68). NIU won all three meetings in 2018-19, and last year the Huskies clipped visiting OU 61-59 in DeKalb. In that last game, Roderick missed a potential game-tying jumper late in regulation.

The game presents Ohio with a great chance to win back-to-back games, after Saturday’s win at Ball State, and even its MAC record.

“We got to come out with the same intensity we’ve had the last two games,” Roderick said. “We got to rebound the basketball, and we’ve got to set the tone defensively with ball pressure and being in those gaps.”

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