Three nights after being pushed around in the paint during a blowout loss, the Bobcats were eager to prove they don’t have to connect on long-range jumpers to win games.
Ohio delivered on that effort Monday night and controlled the paint in a 73-59 win over Mount St. Mary’s in the Convocation Center. The Bobcats (4-1) never trailed, and led by as many as 22 points in the second half before the Mountaineers (2-4) closed the game with an 8-0 run in garbage time.
“Our guys were very resilient tonight,” head coach Jeff Boals said. “I thought they showed some grit, especially in that second half.”
The Bobcats were balanced as usual — with all five starters in double figures — but Bobcats camped out in the lane all night long. After being humbled on the glass at UK, Ohio won the rebounding battle 30-26 and held The Mount to just six offensive rebounds. Also, Ohio owned a titanic 48-24 edge in points in the paint.
Above all else, OU wanted to be physical.
“That was the name of the game,” said forward Jason Carter, referring to rebounding. “That and physicality.”
Carter had 12 points and team-highs of seven rebounds and four steals. He also led Ohio, unofficially, in hustle plays. But he was also 0-2 from 3-point range, and that kind of long-range shooted echoed across the roster.
Ohio finished 4 of 12 from 3-point range, marking season lows in both attempts and makes. The Mountaineers refused to double paint touches or help off shooters positioned on the arc. It was just the fourth time in two-plus seasons under Boals that Ohio made 4 or fewer 3-pointers in a game; Monday’s game was also the first time OU won one of those games.
“We just came out and played,” said Mark Sears, who led Ohio with 15 points and seven assists. “We know that’s going to be the game plan for a lot of teams so we have to be ready for it.
“We started to lean in together and got it to go.”
Ben Roderick joined Carter with 12 points, with 11 coming in Ohio’s 41-point second half. Miles Brown added 11 points and Ben Vander Plas chipped in 10 with six rebounds.
Jalen Benjamin was red-hot throughout and kept MSM close for the first 35 minutes or so with his shot-making. He finished with a game-high 23 points and buried 9 of 10 shots, including 5 of 6 3s. Mezie Offurum had 12 points and eight rebounds, while Nana Opoku chipped in 10.
The Mountaineers shot it well (53.5%) but gave up too many possessions. Held in the check on the class, MSM also had 20 turnovers — including a season-high 10 steals for the Bobcats. OU turned the takeaways into 19 points, and held a 19-6 edge in second chance points.
“We were able to create some turnovers, get some runouts,” Boals said. “We had 48 points in the paint, but probably should’ve had 60.”
Ohio led just 32-26 at the half, but quickly locked the game up after the break. The Bobcats scored 18 points on their first eight possessions of the second half, and took a 50-36 lead on Sears’ 3-point play with 14:59 remaining.
The Mount managed to cut the deficit back to seven, at 52-45, after Benjamin’s 3-pointer but never got any closer. Ohio responded with a 21-6 run over the next eight minutes — capped by a Vander Plas 3-pointer — for a 73-51 lead with 4:11 left.
“It says a lot about our trust in each other,” Carter said. “We don’t care who scores.”
The Bobcats opened the game with a 7-0 run and never trailed, but never truly got in sync during the first half either. Sears netted 11 first-half points on a bevy of middle-of-the-lane probes, starts-and-stops, and finishes, but Carter and Vander Plas combined for just 6 points. Ohio was only 1 of 5 from 3-point range, and the ‘Cats had a season-low four assists in the first half.
Benjamin caught fire for the Mountaineers and kept MSM close. He hit all six of his shots in the half, including four from 3-point range, for 16 points. The deficit dropped to four points two different times, but Ohio settled for a six-point lead at the break.
Ohio returns to action on Friday with a 4 p.m. start against Concordia — a non-Division I program out of Michigan.
Freshman forward IJ Ezuma saw his first minutes of the season on Monday. He was charged with a turnover and a foul in 6:41 of floor time. Boals said he believes his team needs a bit more depth and envisions Ezuma as a backup in the front court.
Ezuma missed several weeks in the preseason with mononucleosis and is behind the curve in terms of conditioning and timing, but Boals said he was likely part of the rotation before the illness. With Ezuma added, Ohio played 10 as part of the rotation on Monday night.
“If we can add the depth piece, it helps us even more,” the coach said.