Preston’s triple-double helps Ohio top Ball State, 85-77

It’s didn’t feel like a triple-double kind of a day for Jason Preston, who was muttering about his shooting as he prepared for a remote postgame press conference.

“I missed a ton of layups…but I’d rather take the ‘W’ despite my 3-of-16 shooting,” Preston said, minutes after Ohio finally dispatched visiting Ball State 85-77 inside the Convocation Center on Saturday afternoon.

Jason Preston (left), seen here on Jan. 12, 2021, had the third triple-double in program history (and his second) in an 85-77 win over Ball State on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. Photo by Jason Arkley

The Bobcats’ weird week finally concluded with a win that never seemed seriously in doubt after OU opened the game with an 11-0 run. The Bobcats (8-6, 4-4 Mid-American Conference) never trailed, and saw the margin fall to one-possession range just twice over the final 38 minutes.

Preston was the headliner, and deserved to be after etching just the third triple-double in program history after finishing with 11 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists. It was his second – his first came on Feb. 2, 2020 against Miami – and only D.J. Cooper (one) has matched the feat in Ohio history.

Who cares if it came after a 3-for-16 shooting (0-for-5 from 3) day? Certainly not OU coach Jeff Boals.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a triple-double through 3-of-16 from the field,” said the second-year coach. “It’s one of those deals you always talk about where if you don’t shoot the ball well, you can still do a lot of other things. (Preston’s) impact for us is huge.

“To do what he did, rebound-wise, assist-wise, playing the whole second half. We were going to get him a break here in the second half during one of the media timeouts, but he didn’t want one,” Boals added. “Just a special player.”

The win came eight days after a humbling home loss to Kent State for the Bobcats. Ohio’s scheduled game at Northern Illinois on Tuesday was postponed due to COVID-19 issues for the Huskies. And OU saw Friday night’s scheduled tip-off against the Cardinals pushed back nearly 24 hours after a power outage blanketed most of the Athens area Friday afternoon and evening.

The Bobcats pushed and challenged each other in practice all week. A sizeable chunk of the roster took advantage of the postponement on Friday night for a road trip for some Cane’s (chicken). They took the “weird” week in stride, and followed with a solid performance on Saturday.

“We adapted. Coach is always saying we have to stay ready,” Preston said. “We responded well, right out of the gate.”

Dwight Wilson III bullied Ball State (6-7, 4-4 MAC) inside for 18 points and eight rebounds, while making all seven of his shots from the field. Wilson had 16 points by halftime as OU led 46-40 at the break.

“Today he was really using his body around the rim,” Preston said. “When he gets those one-on-ones…it’s hard to stop him.”

Lunden McDay added 17 points, Ben Vander Plas shook off some ankle issues to score 11 points, and freshman Mark Sears sparkled off the bench with 19 points and five rebounds.

Sears has 39 combined points in two appearances against Ball State this season. He had 20 in a win at Muncie earlier this month. His four-point play in the second half was followed by his own 3-point play. The seven-point burst gave Ohio a 62-48 lead with 13:38 remaining.

“We were all kind of shook that it took this long (to play again),” Sears said. “The coaches did a great job of gathering us up.

“It’s been a lot of adversity this week.”

Ish El-Amin had 21 points and five 3-pointers to lead the Cardinals, and fellow senior guard K.J. Walton was held to nine points on 3-of-8 shooting.

Ohio dominated the interior, which more than made up for a 5-of-22 (22.7 percent) 3-point shooting effort. The Bobcats held a 45-34 rebounding edge, turned 17 offensive rebounds into 26 second-chance points, and outscored Ball State 40-22 in the paint.

The Bobcats’ toughness was questioned all week long. It certainly showed up against the Cardinals, who entered with the worst rebounding ratio (-2.6 per game) in the MAC.

“We had to make second and third efforts to rebound, and we did that today,” Sears said. “We have to willing to do whatever it takes to win.”

Wilson torched one-on-one coverage inside the entire first half, and scored six points in Ohio’s opening 11-0 surge. When the Cardinals pulled to within 39-36 late in the first half, it was Wilson with a one-handed dunk that squashed the rally.

Ball State closed to within 46-43 after opening the second half with a 3-pointer. But the Bobcats answered with seven straight points, with Preston triggering two layups on inbounds passes from the baseline, and never saw the lead dip lower than five the rest of the way.

Preston secured the triple double with three minutes left. He rebounded his own miss for a layup from the right side.

“Good progression today,” Preston said, when asked Ohio addressed some of its areas of need.

Boals praised his team’s ability to “get better” during a challenging week. Now, he said, they have to keep doing it. Ohio will host struggling Western Michigan (2-9, 1-5 MAC) on Tuesday in the Convo.

“Actions speak louder than words. We did that today,” Boals said. “Let’s go do it again.”

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