The Bobcats hope to continue their revenge tour on Friday, when they face top-seeded Toledo in the semifinals of the 2021 Mid-American Conference Tournament.
Ohio and Toledo are scheduled for a 5 p.m. tip-off at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland. The second semifinal, No. 2 seed Buffalo against No. 3 Akron, will follow. Both games will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network.
Ohio (14-7) broke a 12-day hiatus with a definitive win over Kent State on Thursday afternoon. The Flashes had handled the Bobcats in the teams’ only meeting this season.
The Rockets did the same to the Bobcats when Ohio traveled to the Glass City on Jan. 8. Toledo landed six players in double figures, hit 12 3-pointers, and shot 61.8 percent overall to drop Ohio in a 95-78 laugher.
But there’s reason to believe a rematch will be a different matter. For starters, Ohio point guard Jason Preston didn’t play in the first meeting. Freshman Mark Sears finished with 20 points and eight assists in his place, but OU operates at a different level with Preston on the floor.
Secondly, the game was practically a decade ago – in terms of a college basketball season. The Bobcats have endured two COVID breaks and a team re-invention in the weeks since. Ohio has won six of its last seven games.
And third, it was the Rockets that dodged an upset in the quarterfinals and had to extend themselves into overtime to get by No. 8 Ball State, 91-89. If not for a 32-18 edge at the foul line, Toledo might have been bounced early. Ohio, meanwhile, cruised past KSU in a game where every player was used and the minutes were minimized for the starters.
All of which should give Ohio confidence entering the rematch. But Toledo’s offense is dangerous enough to give head coach Jeff Boals plenty of cautionary tales for his club.
The Rockets lead the MAC in points per 100 possessions (115.7), a mark that checks in at No. 14 nationally. Toledo was second in the MAC with 81.7 points per game, and leads the league in 3-point shooting (38.5 percent).
And UT will have the league MVP, guard Marreon Jackson (21.6 points per game) leading that offense in a quest to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1980.
“They have five guys who are very skilled. They switch everyting,” Boals said. “They put you in space and make plays.”
Ohio is equipped to battle Toledo in a potential shootout. The Bobcats rank second in the MAC in offensive efficiency (112.2, 36th nationally), third in points per game (80.4) and third in 3-point shooting (35.6 percent).
With an offense built around the talents of Preston (7.4 assist per game), the pass-first mentality has permeated the roster. Ohio leads the league in assists (18 per game), ranks 10th nationally in 2-point shooting percentage (56.9 percent) and 16th in the country in effective FG percentage (55.8).
But if Ohio is to score a second straight upset in the tournament, and reach the MAC title game for the first time since 2013, it will have to find a way to generate some stops.
Preston knows this as well as anyone.
“We’ve got to really lock in on these guys,” he said. “The defense has to be laser sharp, and laser focused.”
In the other quarterfinal games on Thursday, chalk held. Buffalo used a late pushed down outdistance Miami, 74-63. In the day’s finale, Zips secured a 74-67 win over No. 6 Bowling Green.
In the men’s and women’s tournament’s combined, there has been just one ‘upset’ so far. Ohio, as a five-seed, over No. 4 Kent State on Thursday.
2021 MAC Men’s Basketball Tournament
Thursday, March 11 – Quarterfinals
- Game 1: No. 1 Toledo 91, No. 8 Ball State 89 (OT)
- Game 2: No. 5 Ohio 85, No. 4 Kent State 63
- Game 3: No. 2 Buffalo 74, No. 7 Miami 63
- Game 4: No. 3 Akron 74, No. 6 Bowling Green 67
Friday, March 12 – Semifinals
- Game 5: No. 1 Toledo (21-7) vs. No. 5 Ohio (14-7), 5 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)
- Game 6: No. 2 Buffalo (15-7) vs No. 3 Akron (15-7), approximately 7:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)
Saturday, March 13 – MAC Championship
- Game 7: Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN2)