The Bobcats had a little left in the tank after all.
Ohio finished their toughest road swing of the season, and made sure they’ll get a road trip at season’s end on Saturday. The Bobcats found another gear, dominated the second half, and whipped Eastern Michigan 74-56 at the George Gervin GameAbove Center.
The win clinched a spot in the 2022 Mid-American Conference Tournament for Ohio (21-4, 12-2 MAC), which remained tied with Toledo atop the conference standings. The Bobcats won for the 16th time in their last 18 games, and the victory capped a brutal stretch of the schedule.
The win came in the finale of a six-games-in-12-days stretch for Ohio. The Bobcats were also playing a third straight road game in just five days.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Ohio coach Jeff Boals said in a postgame radio interview. “It’s asinine.
“You have to give our guys a lot of credit. They found a way to win these games.”
Ohio was 5-1 during the two-week stretch. The Bobcats improved to 8-3 on the road this season, and won for the ninth time in the last 12 meetings against Eastern Michigan (8-16, 3-10 MAC). The Eagles lost their fifth in a row, and ninth in the last 10 games.
At the end of a week-long sojourn that winded from Toledo (on Tuesday) to Mount Pleasant, Michigan (on Thursday) and finally in Ypsilanti, Mich. on Saturday, Ohio had to go deep into their bench to beat the Eagles. Starting forward Jason Carter played just 12 minutes, all in the first half, and failed to play anything close to his usual minutes during the three straight road games. Ohio’s other starting forward, Ben Vander Plas, missed the final seven-plus minutes with an ankle injury.
Freshmen forwards IJ Ezuma and AJ Clayton helped bridge the gap with seven points and six rebounds in a combined 29 minutes. Wing Olumide Adelodun had an impactful five minutes in the first half.
“Those freshmen…they made some big plays. This was a great team win,” Boals said.
Ohio doesn’t win, however, without its backcourt. Mark Sears drove the action, with 20 second-half points, and finished with a game-high 27 points, eight rebounds, five assists and three steals. It was his 12th 20-point game of the season.
“Mark Sears was awesome,” Boals said.
Miles Brown was just as essential. The junior guard had a season-high 15 points and tracked down a career-high 12 rebounds for his first career double-double. Brown scored 10 consecutive points in the first half when Ohio had trouble getting anything going on the offensive end of the floor.
“I have to give the credit to my teammates, especially the bigs,” Brown said. They did a great job of boxing out and I was able to execute and get the rebound.”
Ben Roderick added nine points and Vander Plas finished with seven points and five rebounds for Ohio, which forced 15 turnovers for 17 points.
Darion Spottsville had 12 points to lead EMU, Luka Savicevic added 11, and Bryce McBridge chipped in 10 points. Leading scorer Noah Farrakhan was held to six points on 3 of 13 shooting.
Savicevic scored eight points in 90 seconds to cap a 17-2 run in the first half as EMU took its largest lead, at 29-14 with 5:14 left in the half. 3-pointers by Brown and Sears helped Ohio cut the margin to 33-25 at the break.
“We knew we had to stay together, stay positive,” Brown said. “We had to get gritty and finish the game off.”
The Bobcats didn’t waste any time taking the game over in the second half. Ohio scored 12 straight points as part of a 15-4 run over the first eight minutes of the second half to grab the lead for good.
Vander Plas tied it 37-37 by scoring inside, and then Tommy Schmock broke the tie with a left-side 3-pointer on the next possession.
Sears covered a trio of hanging, twisting layups, and set up Clayton for a 3-pointer as Ohio extended the run out to 30-9. Ohio led 55-42 at that point, with 7:29 left.
Vander Plas left with his ankle injury seconds later, but the Bobcats kept rolling. Ohio led by as much as 20 points twice inside the final couple of minutes.
Ohio shot 50 percent in the second, 40 percent from 3, and 100 percent at the foul line in the second half, and also collared seven offensive rebounds. Those numbers in the first half? 32 percent, 23.1 percent, 50 percent, and two offensive rebounds.
At the end of an exhaustive stretch of games, the Bobcats were tough enough to elevate their game when pushed.
“It’s been crazy,” Brown said. “We’ve done a great job of competing these last two weeks. We got back to having fun there in the second half.”
And now Ohio can finally get back home. It could use the chance to regroup before Tuesday’s matchup with visiting Miami; OU blasted the RedHawks in the first meeting this season.
But the ‘Cats will enter the rematch with injuries to its top two forwards and trying to refill that proverbial gas tank that was severely taxed over the last five days. Still, Ohio is fighting for a conference championship and the top seed for the tournament.
“It’s a mature group, a veteran group,” Boals said. “They’re going to prepare to win the right way.”