The Vikings wanted to pillage, but the Bobcats kept moving the treasure out of harm’s way.
Ohio dealt with constant pressure, double-teams, traps, and swipes — and a tough road-shooting night — but still dispatched Cleveland State 67-56 at the Wolstein Center in Cleveland on Saturday. The Bobcats (2-0) weren’t stressed over the final 30 minutes despite shooting 38.1 percent overall.
Ohio kept one step ahead of the Vikings (0-2) throughout by consistently finding open teammates no matter what defensive gambits Cleveland State employed. OU finished with 22 assists on 24 made field goals. Over play a pass to the wing? Here’s a cut to the paint. Double team a post touch? Here’s a diagonal pass to an open 3-point shot.
Ohio had 12 turnovers, and the Vikings had 20 points off the takeaways, but it was far from a decisive factor.
“We’re really meshing together well right now,” said forward Sam Towns, who cracked the rotation for the first time this season. “We’re playing team ball. We had 22 assists (on 24 made shots), that’s unheard of.”
Mark Sears led a balanced Ohio effort with 15 points. Miles Brown chipped in 10. Senior forward Ben Vander Plas had nine points and nine rebounds as Ohio controlled the glass 42-35.
Jason Carter had another outing where he did a little bit of everything, totaling eight points, five rebounds, and team-highs of five assists, three steals and three blocked shots. Towns did the same with five points, six boards and three assists in just 13 minutes.
Ohio trailed just once, at 2-0, and never led by less than eight points after an 11-2 run in the latter stages of the first half. It wasn’t the kind of offensive explosion the Bobcats enjoyed in the season-opening win over Belmont, but it echoed with the same always-in-control feel.
“(The Vikings) make you play basketball. They trap, they deny, switch and I thought our guys did a great job of handling everything,” Boals said. “The biggest thing I’m proud of is we played a different style of play than we did on Tuesday and we still won the game.”
Broc Finstuen had 14 points and five rebounds to lead Cleveland State, which shot just 38.2 percent overall in its home opener and bagged only 4-of-19 from 3-point range. Yahel Hill chipped in 11 points.
Ohio improved to 13-2 all-time against Cleveland State, and has won six straight against CSU. The Vikings’ last win in the series came in 1998.
The Bobcats won last year’s matchup in blowout fashion thanks to an NCAA record 40-0 run. Ohio’s largest such run on Saturday was only 6-0.
OU broke a 7-7 tie in the first half with an 11-2 run capped by Towns’ 3-pointer for an 18-9 lead and never trained again. Cleveland State trailed 20-13 later in the first half before another 11-2 run — with 3s from Vander Plas and Ben Roderick capping it — made it 31-15 with 5:44 left before the break. The ‘Cats settled for a 35-25 lead at halftime.
Cleveland State never got closer than eight points in the second half. Towns’ alley-oop finish with 9:26 gave Ohio its largest lead at 57-39. The Bobcats twice more pushed the lead to 18 before cruising to an 11-point victory.
“We handled it well. Handled their pressure. Moved the ball. Great pace and stuck to our game plan,” said Brown. “Mark (Sears) did a great job distributing the ball. We had a lot of 45 (degree) cuts that got us open.”
Ohio won’t have much time to celebrate. The Bobcats are scheduled to be back in action on Monday night with a 7 p.m. start against Robert Morris (0-2) in the Convocation Center.