The Bobcats opened the season with a heavy preseason favorite to win their league, and turned in an attention-garnering 92-80 victory over Belmont
Now Ohio (1-0) continues the fledgling season on Saturday against another runaway pick to win a mid-major conference. The Bobcats hit the road for the first time with a 7 p.m. tipoff against Cleveland State (0-1) at the Wolstein Center in Cleveland. The game will be streamed on ESPN+.
“We got a tough stretch here. We have to go to Cleveland State, which is picked to win their league,” Ohio head coach Jeff Boals said. “We got a quick turnaround against a really good Robert Morris team and then we go to Kentucky.
“For our guys, it’s about taking it one game at a time,” he added. “You’re going to win every game but you want to play the right way. You want to be able to execute, do some things.”
The game is the second of a home-and-home series. Last year, the Bobcats tattooed the Vikings 101-46 in a largely empty Convo, and made history in the process. Ohio stitched together a 40-0 run — from the 43-second mark until 8:03 remaining — that set a new NCAA record in the process.
Ohio guard Lunden McDay had a career-high 20 points in the win and center Dwight Wilson III piled up 18 points and 14 rebounds. No one for the Vikings scored more than seven points, and Ohio led 51-25 at the break — before the bulk of the huge run.
In short, it was a humiliating afternoon for the VIkings but they put it behind them. Cleveland State finished the season at 19-8, won the Horizon League regular-season and tournament titles, and earned the third NCAA Tournament bid in program history.
Third-year head coach Dennis Gates is a two-time Horizon Coach of the Year, and he returns nearly his whole roster intact. All five starters and nine players that were part of the rotation in the NCAA loss to Houston return.
The Vikings are led by 6-5 swingman Torrey Patton (14.7 ppg, 8.0 rpg last season), a First Team All-League pick last year and an entrant on the Horizon Preseason All-League team this year.
Patton has plenty of experienced players around him. The CSU roster lists 19 players, and a whopping 13 of them are listed as seniors. In a season-opening 69-59 loss at BYU on Tuesday, each of the top eight players in minutes played were seniors.
The Vikings are deep, experienced, and will be itching for some payback after the debacle in Athens last December.
“The best way to learn is from winning,” Boals said. “So we’re going to get better each day, each game, but we’re always going to compete.”
Sophomore PG Mark Sears had a career-high 27 points on 10-of-11 shooting in the opener, his first game as the every-day floor leader for the Bobcats. Jason Carter added 20 points and 10 rebounds in the first game of his sixth collegiate season.
Whether both need to be up to those standards for OU to win remains to be seen. But Sears the Bobcats will find whoever is open, and that’s the team’s strength.
“Coach always preaches on making the extra pass for a great shot, and that’s what we did,” Sears said Tuesday. “That’s what we’re going to keep doing.”