Mark Sears, apparently, wasn’t ready to wrap up the 2021-22 season.
Sears scored on a hanging layup, with a bank high off the glass, at the buzzer to give Ohio a 65-64 win over Rice on Saturday night in the opening round of the 2022 College Basketball Invitational (CBI) Tournament at the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach, Fla.
Ohio trailed 64-63 with 5.3 seconds left after Carl Pierre netted a baseline jumper for the Owls (16-17). OU head coach didn’t call a timeout, and instead the Bobcats inbounded the ball quickly to Sears.
It was the right call. Sears raced up the floor, got by the primary defender, and then finished over the top of 6-11 center Max Fielder.
“Once I got by my defender, all I had to worry about was an acrobatic layup over their 6-11 (guy),” said Sears, who finished with eight points, six rebounds and three assists.
“I just wanted us to get the ball out and go,” Boals said. “(Sears) did a great job of getting to the rim and an ever better job of finishing.”
Third-seeded Ohio (25-9) extended its season with the win. The Bobcats advance to the quarterfinal round of the tournament and will play either No. 6 Abilene Christian (23-10) or Troy (20-11) – those two teams were to play on Sunday – on Monday night at 8:30 pm back at the Ocean Center.
Rice, the 14-seed, only led for 51 seconds during the entire game but nearly stole it at the end. The Owls took their first lead of the second half with 1:03 after Travis Evee dropped in a short-range floater for a 60-59 lead.
Sears started the game 2 of 13 from the field, but made his final two shots. After Evee’s make, Sears answered with a spinning, short-range bank shot in the lane for a 61-60 lead with 38.6 seconds remaining. With the game on the line, Ohio’s sophomore point guard put it on himself to win it.
“Coach is always talking about that next play mentality,” Sears said. “I had to put all that behind me and make a play.”
A Jason Carter steal set up two free throws for Ben Vander Plas and a 63-60 lead for the Bobcats with 16.4 seconds left. Pierre scored on a layup with 8.5 seconds left to cut it to 63-62. On the ensuing inbounds play, Carter’s long pass sailed out of bounds untouched, and the Owls took advantage with Pierre’s jumper for the late lead.
“It’s survive and advance at this point in the year,” Boals said. “I’m thankful we were able to make one more play than they did, and I’m thankful for this guy sitting next to me (Sears).”
Carter was stellar throughout and posted game-highs of 26 points and 12 rebounds for an authoritative double-double. Vander Plas added 13 points and six rebounds for Ohio, which struggled again to convert from the field.
Ohio shot just 39.1% overall and was a miserable 4/22 (18.2%) from 3-point range. Carter was 11 of 19 from the field; the rest of the roster was a combined 14 of 45. The Bobcats were outrebounded 41-32, but did cash in 14 Rice turnovers for 15 points and held an 11-4 edge in made free throws.
Pierre had 20 points to lead Rice, and Evee chipped in 12 points. The duo combined for 179 made 3-pointers during the season, but finished a combined 4 of 16 from 3 on Saturday. The Owls averaged 9.2 made 3-pointers during the season, but finished just 4 of 17 from the arc.
Chris Mullins had 11 points, and Mylyjael Poteat finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds for Rice, which fell to 1-2 all-time in two appearances in the CBI. The Owls lost eight of their final 10 games in 2022.
Ohio, playing in its third CBI event, improved to 4-2 all-time in the tournament. The victory was also the first this postseason for the Mid-American Conference, which was 0-3 after losses for Akron (in the NCAA), Toledo (NIT) and Kent State (Basketball Classic).
Ohio seemed poised for a blowout early on as the Bobcats took advantage of eight early turnovers for the Owls for a 17-4 lead midway through the first half. But the offense bogged down, Riced chipped away, and took a 26-25 lead late in the half. Vander Plas’ driving score gave OU a 27-26 lead at the break.
Carter unleashed an array of interior moves, and piled up 13 points in the first eight minutes of the second half as Ohio started the second half strongly. The ‘Cats extended the lead to 10, at 54-44, with 5:15 left after Ben Roderick’s straight-on 3-pointer.
“(Carter) was really good on both ends,” Boals said. “He was awesome today.”
Rice, however, scored on its next seven possessions, and nine of its last 10, to put Ohio’s win in jeopardy. Sears had the clutch finishes at the end to give Ohio the chance to play another day.
“We’re happy to still be going,” Sears said. “It’s an honor to still be playing.”
The win moved the 2021-22 Bobcats into select company in program history. Only four teams in the program’s history have won at least 25 games:
- 1993-94, 25-8
- 2011-12, 29-8
- 2013-14, 25-12
- 2021-22, 25-9
A win Monday night would give the Bobcats 26 wins for just the second time in program history. It would also keep the season alive for another day. The CBI quarterfinals, semifinals, and championship game are scheduled for Monday through Wednesday (March 21-23).
2022 College Basketball Invitational
Quarterfinals, Monday, March 21
Streaming live on Flo Hoops
Ocean Center, Daytona Beach, Fla.
No. 1 Drake (25-10) vs. No. 8 VMI/No. 9 UNC-Wilmington winner, 1 pm
No. 13 UNC-Asheville (17-14) vs. No. 5 Florida Atlantic/No. 12 Northern Colorado winner, 3:30 pm
No. 2 Middle Tennessee (24-10) vs. No. 7 UNC-Greensboro/No. 10 Boston University winner, 6 pm
No. 3 Ohio (25-9) vs. No. 6 Abilene Christian/No. 11 Troy winner, 8:30 pm
Semifinals, Tuesday, March 22
Broadcast live on ESPN2
Semifinal 1, 7 pm
Semifinal 2, 9 pm
Championship, Wednesday, March 23
Broadcast live on ESPN2, 5 p.m.