Ben Roderick returned to the lineup and had his best game of the season. But for the Bobcats it was business as usual, despite a mid-afternoon start.
Roderick was one of four players in double figures for Ohio, which plowed over visiting Eastern Michigan 81-68 in the Convocation Center on Thursday afternoon. The game was a makeup of a Dec. 28 postponement – due to EMU COVID issues – and was played at 2 p.m. in anticipation of the severe winter storm which pelted much of the midwest on Thursday.
None of those outside factors mattered much to the Bobcats, who won their fourth straight and for the 13th time in their last 14 games. Ohio matched the best 21-game record in program history by climbing to 18-3 on the season, including 9-1 in the Mid-American Conference.
“Mature,” said Ohio coach Jeff Boals. “I thought they came out with a great mindset and focus.”
Ohio systematically handled the Eagles (8-13, 3-7 MAC), who never led. The Bobcats led for nearly 39 minutes, and led by as much as 26 points in the second half. It was the fifth time in the last six games where OU led by at least 23 points for big stretches in the second half.
“We came out with energy,” said Ohio guard Mark Sears, who had a game-high 20 points, with six rebounds and five assists. “It started on the defensive end.”
Roderick, who missed the last two games with a foot injury, was in the starting lineup and put together his most complete game of the season. Roderick tallied a season-high 19 points, hit a season-high three 3-pointers, and collared five rebounds. He hit open jumpers – a struggle he’s endured all season – got to the rim, and made the kind of hustle plays you don’t see from someone who may be concerned with a recent injury.
“It felt good to see the ball go in the hoop,” said Roderick, who entered the game shooting just 20 percent from 3 this season. “I’m going to take this game and run with it.”
Jason Carter had 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting and added eight rebounds, while Ben Vander Plas chipped in 15 points for Ohio. The Bobcats forced 18 turnovers, good for 24 points, bagged 12 3-pointers on the afternoon and shot nearly 52 percent for the game.
But the best thing Boals saw on Thursday in front of a small but enthusiastic crowd was Roderick. The ‘Cats have missed his long-range acumen this season, even if the record hasn’t reflected it. If Roderick finds his shooting touch, Ohio’s offense will find another gear.
“(Roderick), hats off to him. Coming back from his injury, he looked like the old B-Rod,” Boals said. “ And he gives us a completely different presence out there when he does that.”
Nate Scott had 16 points to lead EMU, while Bryce McBride added 14, and freshman center Mo Njie had 10 points. But the Eagles were swept aside early as Ohio hit its four 3-pointers; The salvo helped the Bobcats out to a 19-6 lead with 11:53 left in the first half.
The game was essentially over at that point, despite the fact EMU cut the deficit to 44-34 at the break. Ohio opened the second half with a 20-4 barrage, and coasted out to a 64-38 lead with 13:38 remaining.
EMU used an 11-0 run against Ohio second’s unit to get back into it, but Boals subbed back in his starting unit; Ohio’s lead was pushed out to 79-56 with 3:00 left before the Bobcats’ four double-figure scorers sat out the final segment.
Ohio’s current 18-3 record matches the best start in program history, reached only three times before and not once in the last 81 years.
The 1940-41 team started 18-3 before losing its final game. In 1936-37, Ohio finished the season at 18-3. In 1921-22, the ‘Cats started the year 18-3 before finishing 19-4.
No team in program history has started a year 19-3. But, that’s a mark the current crop of ‘Cats can reach on Saturday, when Western Michigan is scheduled for a 2 p.m. tip-off in the Convo. The Broncos are the worst team in the league, at 4-18 and 0-11, and have dropped 12 straight games. Ohio won earlier this season in Kalamazoo, 59-47.
The Saturday home matinee will be the first of the MAC season for Ohio, and figures to be a large part of both Sibs Weekend and Basketball Alumni Weekend activities. The Bobcats still trail Toledo (18-4, 10-1 MAC) by a half game in the MAC standings, but travel to Toledo for a rematch on Tuesday.
The Bobcats aren’t looking ahead, and haven’t looked back in terms of making history. Their eyes are firmly fixed on the present and enjoying their success.
Take Roderick for example. Fresh off his triumphant return to the floor, he made an impromptu ask on behalf of a teammate in the postgame presser.
“(Vander Plas) told me to say he needs a Valentine,” Roderick said. “So, anyone out there hit him up.”