Ben Vander Plas was due. Mark Sears remained locked in. And the Bobcats as a whole? They remain unbreakable.
Ohio led nearly from start to finish, and dispatched visiting Kent State 80-72 inside the Convocation Center on Friday night. The Bobcats (12-2, 3-0 Mid-American Conference) won their seventh straight game and remained perfect at home this season (8-0) despite seeing an 18-point second-half lead nearly evaporate.
“Bend, don’t break,” said sophomore guard Mark Sears, who continued his recent torrid pace with a game-high 28 points in a full 40 minutes.
“We just want to keep building. On to the next game. We just want to keep winning.”
There’s no doubt having Sears helps that prospect. He dominated the second half, where he scored 18 points, and edged out Kent State point guard Sincere Carry (26 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists in, 40 minutes) in a great head-to-head matchup. Sears needed just 15 shots to get his 28 points, added six rebounds and three assists, and canned 9 of 10 from the foul line.
Sears scored more than 20 points in a fifth-straight game.
“He plays a lot bigger than he is,” said Ohio coach Jeff Boals. “Shifty, slithery.
“Nothing phases him. He’s ‘Steady Eddie.”
Ohio led for nearly 38 minutes, held a 15-point lead at the half (41-26) and matched its largest lead at 46-28 early in the second half. The Bobcats still led by 13, at 63-50 with just under seven minutes remaining.
But the Golden Flashes (7-7, 2-2) – powered by Carry and Malique Jacobs (16 points) – landed an 11-0 run and pulled to within 63-61 after Carry’s 3-pointer with 3:56 remaining.
But the Bobcats had an answer, just like they did in similar circumstances on Tuesday night in Akron. It started, of course, with Sears, who stuck a hanging, mid-range jumper from the right side of the lane with a defender in his face.
“He just has a knack for making like the toughest shots possible in those spots,” said senior forward Ben Vander Plas.
“That shot was huge, and it took courage,” added Boals.
Kent State answered with two free throws. Then Sears found a flaring Ben Roderick (13 points) on the right side on the next possession. Roderick canned the catch-and-shoot 3-pointer.
The Flashes’ next possession resulted in a block at the rim from Jason Carter (10-points), and Carter turned it into a reverse layup at the other end of the floor for a 70-63 lead with just 2:06 left. From there, the ‘Cats made enough free throws – 10 of 12 – down the stretch to ice it.
“Again, we made big plays down the stretch,” Boals said.
Vander Plas finished with a season-high 20 points, and tied a career-high with six 3-pointers. Vander Plas hit his first five 3-pointers – all in the first half – and looked nothing like the shooter who had made just 4 of 28 3s in the previous six games combined.
Against the Flashes, Vander Plas shredded the defensive game plan by making his first and continuing to bomb away.
“Been a rough couple of games, a little bit of a drought,” Vander Plas said. “You shoot to get hot and shoot to stay hot,” Vander Plas said. “That’s how I rock with it.”
Each of Ohio’s first five field goals were from long-range. Kent State led at 2-0 and then again at 4-3, but never led again after the Bobcats owned the next 15 minutes with a 36-17 run for a 39-21 lead late in the first half.
The Bobcats won despite playing a different starting lineup for the first time this season. Sophomore guard Miles Brown was out due to COVID protocols; backup PG Tommy Schmock got his first start of the year and finished with five points in a season-high 31 minutes.
Ohio is adhering to the Athens County and Ohio University COVID guidelines, taken from the recent adjustment issued by the CDC. It means Brown could return to active status in as soon as five days.
It’s the first COVID impact, in house, for the ‘Cats this season.
“It’s difficult, but everyone is kind of dealing with it,” Boals said, referring to the spate of postponements and pauses across the country due to the Omicron variant surge.
Currently, Ohio is scheduled to host Bowling Green back in the Convo on Tuesday night starting at 7 p.m.