Preston returns, and so does some defense, as OU handles RedHawks

To give you an idea of the vibe inside the Convocation Center on Tuesday night, consider this example from OU head coach Jeff Boals.

After a stoppage early in the second half due to a malfunctioning clock issue, both teams proceeded to play on without the game, and shot, clocks operating above each backboard. Instead, when the shot clock wound down, the PA announcer would begin a countdown.

About five possessions after this scenario began, Boals’ Bobcats were locked into a good half-court defensive possession. Suddenly Boals starts yelling from the OU bench: “3…2…1”

Ohio’s Ben Roderick (3) flips a pass up court to teammate Jason Preston past Miami’s Dae Dae Grant during the Bobcats’ 78-61 home win on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. Photo by Jason Arkley

The opposing guard threw up a hurried shot – well before the official countdown had begun. The ploy, something you’d hear from a student section, worked.

“I must’ve read the wrong clock,” Boals said with more than a hint of a grin.

The Bobcats were locked in defensively, communicated well throughout, and playfully put away visiting Miami 78-61.  Ohio (7-5, 3-3 Mid-American Conference) was happy to have Jason Preston back on the floor, Boals was pleased to see some defensive principles take hold, and everyone in Green & White was just fine with knocking off their rivals once more.

“It was great to be back out there,” said Preston, who returned after missing four games with a leg injury. “I felt pretty good.”

Preston finished with 10 points, six rebounds and eight assists in 32 minutes. He got the start, and made sure the Bobcats never trailed. After coming up with a steal near midcourt, he fed Ben Roderick for an open corner 3. Roderick splashed it home, OU led 3-0 and never looked back.

“We all had a lot of fun out there,” said Roderick, who led posted a game-high 20 points after bagging 6-of-9 from 3-point range. “Seeing that first one go in always deflates them.”

Preston added a jumper and a fast-break layup off another turnover as Ohio raced out to a 12-3 lead less than four minutes in. It foreshadowed the Bobcats’ biggest strength on this night – turning defense into offense.

Miami shot just 40.4 percent, and Ohio turned 13 turnovers into 25 points going the other way. It was a stark difference from Friday night when the Bobcats were routed at Toledo.

“We really took that personal,” Preston said. “We wanted to be active in the gaps, have ball pressure and rebound…that allowed us to push and get in transition.”

Miami twice cut the deficit to two points in the first half, but never got over the hump. Up 29-26 with 3:48 left in the half, Boals went with a small-ball lineup, featuring Preston and backup PG Mark Sears, another small guard in Miles Brown, Roderick and forward Ben Vander Plas playing as the center. Ohio closed with a 9-3 run and a 38-29 lead at the break.

The Bobcats landed a 10-0 run early in the second half, sparked by back-to-back 3s from Roderick, and led 48-31 with 17:20 to go. Miami never got the led under 10 the rest of the way.

Vander Plas added 15 points, eight rebounds and seven assists for Ohio, which was sharp in nearly aspect. The Bobcats sizzled the nets (31 of 54, 57.4 percent) and assisted on 23 of 31 total field goals. Sears, the freshman who started when Preston was out, seamlessly came off the bench for nine points, seven rebounds and four assists without a turnover in 20 minutes.

“It’s contagious,” Boals said of Ohio’s passing. “We share the ball well. (Preston) is a big part of that.”

Mekhi Lairy had 17 points and five assists for Miami, and Dalonte Brown added 16 points and five rebounds. But it was another tough “Battle of the Bricks” for the RedHawks, who have dropped four in a row to OU and 17 of the last 20.

Ohio led for 39 of the 40 minutes on Tuesday, and never appeared threatened. With the game in hand virtually the entire second half, the Bobcats instead fed off every defensive stop. At one point, Boals raced to half-court with his arms pumping celebrating a Miami shot-clock violation.

“In order to win you have to defend and rebound, and execute in the half-court,” Boals said. “We did all three tonight.

“When you get something like that, you have to celebrate those type of plays.”

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