Bobcats come up big in debut, bounce Belmont

Ohio forward Ben Vander Plas lines up a 3-pointer in the Bobcats’ 92-80 win over Belmont on Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021 inside the Convocation Center. Photo courtesy of Ohio Athletics/Colin Mayr

On a night when the Bobcats unwrapped a shiny, brand-new season, it felt like a throwback special.

That’s not a complaint.

Jason Carter channeled his all-purpose self from a few years ago, the Convo rocked it hadn’t since well before the pandemic, and Ohio broke in 2021-22 with an impressive 92-80 win over visiting Belmont in Athens.

Carter, who played the last two years at Xavier after three with the Bobcats, opened season No. 6 back in familiar surroundings and posted a double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Just as important was his defensive effort.

Carter played Belmont standout center Nick Muszynski straight up, with little to no double-team help in the post. Muszynski finished with 18 points and six assists, but the Bruins (0-1) shot just 34.6 percent from 3-point range as the single coverage allowed the rest of the Bobcats to stay at home on the Belmont shooters.

Carter was instrumental in every phase. He finished possessions with 3-pointers. He initiated offense. He rebounded. He turned a half-dozen hustle plays. He used a pump-fake to spring himself for a sprinting one-handed dunk. He even cramped up late while taking a tumble into the Belmont bench.

It was like he never left. He was back home.

“I’m not gonna lie, it felt really good. Nerves got to me a little at the beginning,” Carter said. “It was like ‘Wow, this actually happened.’ I never would’ve thought I’d be in this position.”

The Bobcats (1-0) had plenty of offensive options. Sophomore PG Mark Sears was sensational, and bucketed a game-high 27 points on 10-of-11 shooting while squaring off against Belmont’s Grayson Murphy — a two-time OVC Defensive Player of the Year. Murphy wasn’t bad mind you — 8 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists — but he could never knock Sears off his spot or out of rhythm.

“I was shooting with confidence,” Sears said. “We just throw in the post. They double-teamed the post and we’d kick it out for easy 3s. Wide open 3s.”

Ben Vander Plas added 19 points, six rebounds and seven assists for Ohio, and Miles Brown chipped in 10 points. Ohio won for the first time in three all-time meetings against the Bruins.

The Bobcats bagged 16 3-points, never trailed inside the final 12 minutes, and led by as many as 18 points down the stretch. It was an emphatic home win against a top 100 opponent and a rollicking good time to start the year.

“The vibe, the energy…it was great to have everyone back,” said head coach Jeff Boals, acknowledging his roster, a packed student section, and vibrant Convo all at the same time.

“When this place gets loud, it gets rockin.”

It got the loudest roughly halfway through the second half. Belmont, paced by 25 points from Ben Sheppard, had taken three brief leads before settling into a 58-58 with 12:41 left. Ohio then landed a 15-2 run to take control for good.

Carter started it with a turning half-hook finisher inside. Lunden McDay bagged a 3-point at the top of the key, then Carter did the same on a reset after an offensive rebound. Carter then added a fading, one-legger jumper (think Dirk Nowitzki) from the lane.

Tommy Schmock scored in a transition, and freshman A.J. Clayton polished off the barrage with a left-wing 3-pointer for a 73-60 lead with 7:36 remaining. The Bruins never got closer than 10 the rest of the way.

Vander Plas punctuated it with a mid-court steal and then two-handed dunk with just under two minutes to go for an 86-68 lead. 

“I’ve liked the maturity of this team,” Boals said. “I’ve likened this game to a MAC Championship game from day 1. We answered every challenge.”

Ohio led 44-39 at the break after Vander Plas capped a free-flowing first 20 minutes with a step-back 3-pointer from the right wing inside the final second. The shot banked in smoothly.

Belmont had just two leads in the first half, at 1-0 and then again at 27-25. Ohio scored 16 of the game’s first 21 points for an early 11-point lead fueled by Sears and Brown — who both bagged two 3-pointers in the opening salvo. 

The Bruins tied it 31-31, but Ohio scored 10 of the next 12 points for a 41-33 edge after Carter hit a 3 and Sears finished off a driving layup.

Ohio bagged nine 3-pointers in the half, and Sears didn’t miss — literally. He hit all five of his shots including three 3-pointers for a game-high 13 points at the break. 

“I guess we’ll let him slide on this one,” Boals joked, referring to Sears’ two misses on the night, one from the field and one from the foul line. 

Ohio continues non-conference play on Saturday at Cleveland State.

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