For all the things the Bobcats didn’t do on Thursday night it could be easy to overlook what they did accomplish.
With a collective gas tank that appears to be hovering next to empty, Ohio nonetheless grinded through and KO’d Central Michigan 81-72 in McGuirk Arena after a 53-point second half. The Bobcats (20-4, 11-2 Mid-American Conference notched their 20th win of the season and climbed back into a tie atop the conference standings with idle Toledo.
Ohio shook off a disappointing showing on Tuesday night, and overcame a six-point deficit early in the second to improve to 7-3 in true road games this season. The Bobcats did it despite playing for a fifth time in nine days. Ohio will wrap up the 6-games-in-12-days stretch on Saturday afternoon at Eastern Michigan; That game will also conclude a stretch of three road games in five days for the Bobcats.
“It’s really ridiculous,” Ohio coach Jeff Boals said in a radio interview afterward. “But our mindset is really good.”
That’s encouraging because the Bobcats’ legs and stamina appear to be waning. Ohio lacked mental focus in the first half on Thursday (10 turnovers) and were less competitive on the glass than Boals would have liked. Ohio was outrebounded 38-28 as Central Michigan grabbed 13 offensive rebounds.
The Chips (6-15, 5-5 MAC) were also playing for the fifth time in nine days. The game was a makeup contest. The meeting was originally set for Jan. 15, but postponed due to COVID issues with CMU.
The two most glaring spots where fatigue showed for Ohio were at the foul line and with standout forward Jason Carter. The Bobcats finished 17 of 26 at the foul line (65.4 percent) but were 1 of 7 at one point. Carter scored Ohio’s first four points, then didn’t score again.
Carter finished with just 25 minutes in notching his season-low scoring total. After failing to hit double figures just twice in the first 22 games this season, he’s one it in back-to-back games this week. Carter sat out the final 7:50 of the loss at Toledo on Tuesday, and was on the bench for the final 10-plus minutes on Thursday.
Boals didn’t say anything about Carter’s condition after the game.
“Guys need to step up when guys are out, and we got that tonight,” the coach said.
Freshman PG Kevin Miller had a career-high 25 points and added five rebounds and six assists to lead CMU, but his statline suited the start-and-stop nature of the game – which had a combined 46 fouls called. Miller hit just 7 of 21 from the field and had seven turnovers.
Harrison Henderson had 16 points and nine rebounds, while Brian Taylor chipped in 12 and seven boards for the Chips.
Butfor all the things that didn’t go Ohio’s way, there was one big factor that did – 3-point shooting. Ohio shot 48 percent (12/25) from 3, including a sizzling 8 of 13 in the second half.
“In the second half, we just went back to having fun playing basketball again,” said senior forward Ben Vander Plas. “We just played hard the rest of the game.”
Vander Plas netted team-highs of 24 points and six assists to lead Ohio. Mark Sears notched his 11th 20-point game of the season with 22 points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals. Tommy Schmock continued his big week with 16 points off the bench.
The trio scored 45 of Ohio’s 53 points in the second half.
Vander Plas led the way and got OU started. Down 34-28 early in the second half, the Bobcats landed an 11-0 run to grab the lead for good. Vander Plas made a 3-pointer, set up Ben Roderick with a layup, and then powered home another bucket inside to ignite the run.
“I have to give (former Bobcat) Jason Preston credit,” Vander Plas explained. “He was sending me videos and getting on me about getting in the paint.
“So, shout out to JP for that one.”
The 11-0 run gave Ohio the lead, and the Bobcats extended it to a 22-6 surge to make it 50-40 with 10:44 left for their first double-digit lead of the night. Schmock, and then little-used freshman win Olumide Adelodun hit back-to-back 3s to get the ‘Cats rolling.
“Those were some huge, huge minutes off the bench for (Adelodun),” Boals said.
Schmock walked into another 3-pointer to make it 69-58 with 2:38 left to all but seal it. The Chips got to within five with less than a minute left, but Vander Plas clinched with a breakaway dunk against the press.
“It’s a resilient group,” Boals said. “We were frustrated in the first half, but showed a really good response in the second half. This is a great road win for our team.
A tight first half included eight lead changes and eight ties as both teams struggled to find consistency. CMU had the largest lead of the first 20 minutes at four points, but Roderick’s 3-pointer with 1:25 left made it a one-point game at halftime.
Ohio wraps up its “ridiculous” six-game stretch on Saturday in Ypsilanti, Michigan. The Bobcats won the first meeting this season, 81-68, just one week ago in a game that was played in the middle of the afternoon because of an impending winter storm.
“It’ll be a toughness game,” Vander Plas said. “We’re coming out to play hard and win it.”