Bobcats Finally Scratch Out a Win

Ohio forward Ben Vander Plas (left) drives baseline during the Bobcats’ 78-75 win on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021 against St. Francis (Pa.) in the Convocation Center. Photo by Jason Arkley

After a couple of days of preparation — and all of the film review, scouting report discussion, on-floor reps and shooting drills that entailed — the Bobcats’ margin between winning and losing on Saturday afternoon came down to something much simpler and more primal.

Find a body. Wall up. Get the ball.

The Bobcats those three things on the game’s penultimate defensive possession and skated out of the Convo with a 78-75 win over St. Francis (Pa.). Ohio (6-2) stayed undefeated at home after weathering a game decided by single-digits for the first time this season. 

“Very fortunate to win the game,” admitted Ohio coach Jeff Boals. “They put a lot of pressure on you by driving the basketball. 

“We made enough plays at the end to get it done.”

The Red Flash (3-4) have lost 10 of 11 all-time meetings against Ohio, and fell to 0-7 in Athens. The Bobcats also forged an 18-point lead with a minute left in the first half, and still led 74-62 with less than five minutes to go.

But, led by a rotating series of players driving to the rim, St. Francis made Ohio sweat out a close ending. The Red Flash used a 13-2 run to pull within a single point, 76-75, after two free throws from Romiir Dixon-Conover with 11.4 seconds left.

After a timeout, Ohio inbounded the ball but it was stripped from Ben Vander Plas in the corner. At that moment, everything went haywire and hectic.

The Red Flash got the ball, got it to Ronell Giles Jr., and a mad crash to the rim ensued. All 10 players on the floor seemingly converged on the painted area. 

Giles’ sliding layup missed the rim. Red Flash big man Josh Cohen got the rebound and put it back up, but it bounced off front of the iron. Ohio guard Mark Sears halted the scramble by grabbing a clean rebound and clenching it tightly as he was fouled with 0.3 seconds left. Sears hit two free throws to make it 78-75, and Ohio had its first close win of the season.

“In that kind of situation we’re trying not to foul and put them on the line. We go straight up,” Sears explained. “And then after he missed, we just got to find a body and box out.

“Then we got to come up with that 50/50 ball, which we did. That’s how we won the game at the end.”

Sears personified Ohio’s back-and-forth, up-and-down day. He notched a game-high 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting, and added eight rebounds, five assists and three steals. On the other hand, Sears was charged with a career-high eight turnovers — part of a season-high 20 for Ohio that led to 23 points for the Red Flash. 

“That’s really on me. Making careless passes and not being aware of who’s behind me,” Sears said. “I got to use this as a tool and move on from this.”

Vander Plas added 13 points, while Miles Brown and Jason Carter had 10 apiece for the Bobcats. Ohio also got key minutes out of the bench with Tommy Schmock (8 points, 6 assists) and A.J. Clayton in the game-finishing lineup. Clayton replaced Carter, who fouled out with two minutes to go. 

Sam Towns (7 points, 4 rebounds) played big minutes thanks to foul trouble for Ben Roderick.

“Our bench, they were a key part of this win. They really were,” Sears said. 

Myles Thompson had 19 points to lead the Red Flash. Maxwell Land had 15 points, Cohen netted 14 off the bench, Giles finished with 12 and seven assists, and Dixon-Conover had 10, six rebounds, and five assists.

The late-game drama wasn’t envisioned in the first half. St. Francis led just once the entire game — at 8-5 less than three minutes in — and Ohio responded to that deficit with a 12-0 run concluding with consecutive buckets inside from Sears, Carter and Towns.

Ohio continued to pour it on and led 41-23 — plus-18 — with 1:18 left in the half after Towns scored off a turnover to finish off a 14-2 surge.

But the Red Flash stole the momentum back with seven points in the final 35 seconds. The sequence included some no-calls that Ohio felt were egregious, Carter’s first technical foul of the season, and Cohen’s buzzer-beating layup. 

“That was an adversity moment for us,” Brown said. 

Boals loudly, and sarcastically, clapped the officials as everyone cleared the floor at the break. The Bobcats, collectively lost their composure in the brief stretch and the potential for a blowout win evaporated with it.

“That was my fault. I was on those guys (the officials) in the first half,” Boals said. “I got to do a better job. When I lose my composure it bleeds off. I apologized to the guys afterward. It goes back to what we talk about. Control what we can.”

St. Francis got to within two points, at 56-54, with 10:30 left, but the Bobcats used an 18-8 run to forge the 12-point lead with 4:55 left. Ohio hit four straight shots to finish off the run including Brown’s 3-pointer, Carter’s turnaround jumper, a hanging jumper in the lane from Sears, and then Vander Plas’ layup.

But the Bobcats missed five of their last six shots, and had two turnovers down the stretch to set up the frenetic finish. 

“Good teams, they always find a way to win like we did tonight,” Sears said. 

Ohio won’t play until next weekend at Stetson (in DeLand, Fla.) as Finals Week begins on Monday at the university.

McDay remains out

Junior guard Lunden McDay was not with the team for a third straight game on Saturday. Boals expressed no confidence in when he might return to active status, or further illuminated reasons for his absence. The program’s official stance is that McDay is out indefinitely due to personal reasons. 

Pressed for more details Saturday, Boals didn’t have much to offer.

“Yeah, definitely,” Boal said when asked if McDay was still a part of the Ohio program.

“It’s nothing COVID related, nothing disciplinary related. Personal reasons,” the coach said. 

“Nothing really I can do. It’s a time issue,” he said. “I think the big thing is concentrating on who we have and getting our guys better.”

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