With the program celebrating Basketball Alumni Weekend, and the game-day festivities including a video package to the 2011-12 team on the 10-year anniversary of that squad’s Sweet 16 season, exploring Bobcat history was certainly a theme for Saturday’s matinee against Western Michigan.
Jason Carter and the Bobcats then went out and added some more.
Ohio pulled away in the second half and downed the visiting Broncos, 77-64, in the Convocation center. It was the fifth straight win for the Bobcats, who improved to 19-3 on the season – and notched the best 22-game record in the 114-year history of the program.
“It’s awesome our guys have done this,” said Ohio third-year head coach Jeff Boals. “But we’ll keep the one-game mentality. We’ll continue to prepare to win the next game the same way.”
The victory did more than add an interesting note to the Bobcats’ resume. Ohio improved to 10-1 in the Mid-American Conference, good enough to move OU into sole possession of first place in the MAC standings following Toledo’s loss Friday night at Ball State. The Rockets slid to 10-2 in the MAC; Ohio plays at Toledo on Tuesday night.
“I’ve just been focused on enjoying every minute,” said Carter, a sixth-year forward who played in his 140th career game on Saturday – and still found a way to break new ground.
Carter piled up a career-high 27 points and added 10 rebounds for his third double-double of the season. It was the 16th 20-point game of his long career and featured callouts to every weapon in his arsenal.
There was tough work inside, clearing an offensive rebound for a putback. There was a quick-fire 3-pointer from the corner. There was a defensive rebound, which resulted in a one-man fast-break and a finish at the rim. There was a spin over his left shoulder for a layup, and a spin over his right shoulder for a fadeaway jumper in the paint.
And all of that was encapsulated in three early minutes in the second, part of a 12-0 Carter-only surge that ignited a 16-3 Ohio run that flipped the game for the Bobcats.
“That second half stretch, I just put my head down and was just really aggressive,” Carter said. “ And again, I just have great teammates. It allows me to get open and get those shots.”
The fact Ohio needed a second-half run to get clear is a credit to Western Michigan (4-19, 0-12 MAC) in and of itself. The Broncos have lost 13 straight games and haven’t defeated a Division I opponent since Nov. 28.
Still, WMU led 45-42 early in the second half. The Broncos stayed close – until that point – thanks to the 30-point effort of Lamar Norman Jr. It’s the most points allowed to a single player all season for the Bobcats.
“They started very comfortable in doing what they wanted to do,” Boals said. “And Norman is a really good player.”
After Carter’s surge, Ohio led 58-48 with just under 14 minutes remaining. The Broncos cut it to six, but the Bobcats kept them at arm’s length the rest of the way. Ohio took its largest lead, at 73-58, with four minutes left after Carter’s driving score and a darting layup from Sears.
Sears finished 25 points, six rebounds and six assists for Ohio for his 10th 20-point game of the season. Ben Vander Plas gave OU twin double-doubles with 14 points and 11 boards.
Markeese Hastings had 10 points and 10 rebounds for WMU, and Mileek McMillian chipped in 11.
Ohio shot just 25.9 percent (7 of 27) from 3-point range but dominated most aspects. WMU had 16 turnovers that led to 24 Bobcat points, and Ohio crushed the Broncos in paint points 50-10.
“50 paint scores out of 77, you’re going to win a lot of games doing that,” Boals said. “We want to continue doing that. I thought we got good looks.”
WMU was game early, and blistered Ohio with 17 points in the game’s first five minutes. Ohio’s 17-7 deficit with 14:48 left in the opening half marked just the second time in MAC play the Bobcats had faced a double-digit deficit.
“They came out with great energy,” explained Sears. “Coach always tells us we’re always gonna get the best shot from every opponent and we saw that today.”
Down 10, Sears sparked Ohio’s answering 14-0 run with a step-back 3-pointer from the top of the key. He had half the points in the run, which ended with IJ Ezuma’s score from the left block for a 21-17 lead with 9:22 left.
With Norman dropping in contested jumpers, the Broncos hung close. Ohio led 40-39 at the break only after Sears drilled a 3-pointer from the left side with three seconds left.
At the half, Ohio honored alumni from the basketball program who returned for the weekend. Among the group was Bob Johnson, who played from 1946-49. He was the oldest honoree in the group, and had not been back on campus since his graduation more than 70 years ago.
Carter led the way early in the second half, and Ohio’s defense found its footing. WMU scored just 25 points in the second half on 30.4 percent shooting.
“In the second half, we really locked in,” Sears said.
The game was the third in five days for Ohio, and marks the halfway point of six games in 12 days. The Bobcats improved to 13-1 at home this season, after the three home victories this week.
Ohio will be on the road for three games next week. The ‘Cats could take a huge step toward winning the MAC regular-season championship with a win Tuesday at Toledo.