The Bobcats didn’t bring their shooting touch into the new year, but nonetheless opened Mid-American Conference play with a defensively-powered 59-47 victory at Western Michigan on Saturday.
Ohio (10-2, 1-0 MAC) never trailed over the last 38 minutes, but also never fully separated from the struggling Broncos (4-9, 0-2). WMU has dropped three in a row, and had lost its previous two games by a combined 62 points.
The Bobcats have won five in a row, but despite the unsightly shooting in this one, coach Jeff Boals isn’t about to apologize for an in-conference road win coming after a COVID-extended 10-day break between games.
“It was different. We gave our guys about four days off, came back, worked out. And then Monday before practice, we found out our Eastern (Michigan) game was postponed. And then we kind of had an inter squad scrimmage on Tuesday,” Boals explained.
“Timing might not have been there and their legs might not have been there, but we’re really proud of our guys getting a road win today.”
The game was a mechanical and spiritual successor to Ohio’s win at Stetson in December, which – prior to Saturday – was Ohio’s ugliest of the year. At WMU, the Bobcats shot just 36.5 percent overall and a season-worst 3 of 22 (13.6%) from 3-point range.
The three made 3-pointers represented the lowest total in a victory for Ohio under Boals in his two-plus years at the helm.
The Broncos were handcuffed throughout by Ohio’s defense, and shot just 32.7 percent and 27.3 percent from 3-point range on their way to becoming the second team this season that failed to break 50 against OU.
The offense, such as it was, ran through a pair of familiar sources for Ohio. Mark Sears continued his torrid pace with 21 points on 7-of-14 shooting. Jason Carter added 17 points and a team-high eight rebounds while hitting 8 of 15 from the field.
Ben Vander Plas added nine points and seven rebounds for Ohio, and Ben Roderick collared a career-high seven rebounds. But if you took Sears’ assortment of layups and in-the-lane pullups, and Carter’s work inside, the bulk of Ohio’s roster combined to shoot just 8 of 34 – under 25 percent.
But it was enough against WMU, which got 21 points from Lamar Norman Jr. and nine points and 14 rebounds by Markeese Hastings. The Broncos forged three different 3-point leads in the opening minutes, including 17-14 with 9:55 left in the half on Hastings’ 3-point play.
But Ohio’s first made 3-pointer, from Vander Plas, gave the ‘Cats a 19-17 lead with 8:25 left and OU never trailed again.
Ohio made just 2 of 13 3’s in the first half, and the second came at the buzzer when Tommy Schmock connected on a running heave from half-court.
Carter’s 3-pointer sparked a 7-0 run early in the second half and the Bobcats finally generated more breathing room. Vander Plas scored on the break to make it 39-28 with 13:48 left for Ohio’s first double-digit lead of the day.
WMU simply couldn’t find any way to get back into it. The Broncos failed to make a field goal during a nearly nine-minute stretch, and trailed 52-38 with four minutes left after Carter’s two-handed dunk.
Ugly shooting or not, Ohio will appreciate the win at University Arena. The win snapped a streak in the series where the home team had won each of the last 10 meetings.
“We’re feeling good,” Carter said afterward. “It’s tough to get road wins and we came in here played a good Western Michigan team and got a win. We’re going to take one game at a time and we’re going to continue to do that and get ready for Akron.”
Around the MAC
Ohio hits the road again on Tuesday, with a 6 p.m. start at Akron (8-3, 1-0 MAC) in a key early season league matchup. The Zips bumped off preseason favorite Buffalo, in Akron, 88-76 on Saturday. The game ended a 16-day hiatus for Akron, which had games at Bowling Green and with Northern Illinois postponed last week.
Both the Bobcats and the Zips are expected to be on the short list for title contenders in the MAC this season.
The MAC had six of 12 scheduled games postponed over the first week of conference play due to COVID concerns. Neither Eastern Michigan nor Northern Illinois played this week, and the UB-UA matchup was added to the schedule late because of the issues with the Eagles and the Huskies.
The MAC has stated it will try to reschedule the postponed games if possible.
After one week, Ohio, Akron, Miami, Ball State and Central Michigan all sit at 1-0. Toledo and Kent State split their first two games. Bowling Green (0-1), Buffalo (0-2) and WMU (0-2) are still looking for their first league wins.