Ben Vander Plas delivered one message with a dynamite first half.
Then he delivered another in a postgame interview.
Vander Plas netted a season high 23 points, including 20 in a tone-setting first half, as Ohio busted up Miami 86-63 on Tuesday night in Oxford. The Bobcats (14-2, 5-0 Mid-American Conference) cruised into Millett Hall, ran past the RedHawks throughout, and captured their ninth straight victory.
The win streak is the sixth-longest in program history – tied with the 2011-12 outfit – and is the longest for an Ohio team since Gary Trent (and Jeff Boals for that matter) helped the ‘Cats to a 13-game win streak during the 1993-94 season.
The victory was the fifth in a row against Miami (8-8, 2-3 MAC) in this long-running ‘Battle of the Bricks’ rivalry series. Current head coach Jeff Boals moved to 4-0 against Miami, and Ohio has taken 18 of the last 21 meetings.
The win also set up a huge matchup on Friday night. Ohio will host Toledo (14-4, 6-1 MAC) in the first of two meetings this season; tip-off for the nationally broadcast game will be 6 p.m.
“If you’re coming, bring your 10 closest friends and tell them to bring their 10 closest friends,” Vander Plas said in a postgame radio interview about the potential showdown. “It’s gonna be a fun time.”
The Bobcats had fun Tuesday as they whipped Miami from stem to stern and soup to nuts. Vander Plas was terrific throughout, and added in six rebounds, three assists and four steals for good measure. Mark Sears added 17 points and season-high nine assists. Jason Carter chipped in 13 points.
But it was a complete effort. Ohio notched 20 assists on 29 made field goals, and shot 50.9 percent from the field. The ‘Cats logged 12 steals, owned the paint (30-14), and dominated the open floor. Ohio finished with a 24-4 edge in fast-break points, including an absurd 18-0 margin in that department at the half.
“When you see that, you know it’s hard to stop us,” Vander Plas said.
Miami had no answer for Ohio’s defense, which forced turnovers early, seemingly never gave up an open look, and played with effort that allowed even its base man-to-man to look like a trapping zone with multiple defenders collapsing at pressure points.
Dae Dae Grant had 11 points and Marr Avance had 10 for the Redhawks, but Miami was out rebounded, had more turnovers, and shot a miserable 36.5% from the floor.
“The biggest thing we wanted was disruption,” Boals said. “You have to have a certain type of mindset when going on the road, and we had that.”
Miami led twice, at 2-0 and 4-3, and held the lead for about 30 seconds total. The Bobcats led by double figures for the final 32 minutes, led by no less than 20 over the final 18 minutes, and even enjoyed a whopping 35-point lead (78-43) with about eight minutes left.
Ohio answered the early 4-3 deficit with a 15-2 run and the route was on. Vander Plas hit hook shots, wide-open 3s, and even a half-dunk/half-layup in a dominating 1H stretch. He landed a personal 6-0 run to close the half, with a pair of hook shots to boot, to give Ohio a 45-27 lead at the break.
“That was a lot of fun,” Vander Plas said. “But once we get to tomorrow, it’s time to get back to it.”
Ohio allowed no slippage in the second half, scoring 15 points in the first four minutes, including three different 3-point plays – two by Sears. Getting a big edge, and then continuing to put the pressure on, was a big step in the right direction, Boals said.
“My mom always told me the least important score is the halftime score,” Boals said. “Tonight…we sustained it.”
Ohio played with Miles Brown back in the starting lineup after a two-game absence due to COVID-19 protocol. But, the Bobcats were without freshmen IJ Ezuma and Olumide Adelodun for the same reason.
Ohio was playing for the first time in a week, after Saturday’s game at Central Michigan was postponed due to COVID issues with the Chippewas. The ‘Cats now have two games (CMU and EMU) to try to fit in at some point.
Still, with a full-on rout over a rival in their pocket, a big game on tap, and a huge winning streak in tow, the night was a joyous one for the Bobcats. Boals even got in on the good vibes. At one point, as he was arguing a call with a huge lead, one spectator told him to ‘relax.’ Boals took an exaggerated deep breath and shrugged his shoulders.