Jason Preston (0) was one of the top ball distributors in the entire nation last season. Photo: Ben Wielgopolski, WOUB visuals

Ohio Men’s Basketball: ‘Cats Run Out of Gas in Loss to Purdue

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ATHENS, OH — For the first time in nearly two decades, Ohio got to play host to a team from the Big Ten with Purdue paying a visit to Athens for the first time since 1969.

For a young Bobcat team, it was a chance to prove on a big stage that they were ready to take the next step. However, despite competing with the Boilermakers for stretches of Tuesday night’s game, they showed that there is still some ways to improve before conference play starts.

In front of an energetic Convo crowd, the Bobcats (7-4) nearly erased a 20-point halftime deficit but ran out of gas late before falling to Purdue (7-4) 69-51, their first loss on their home floor of the season.

“A lot of those guys learn game to game, and we talk about competing,” Ohio head coach Jeff Boals said. “We got great kids and they play for each other. We got what we wanted to see out of the second half.”

Those that hung around in the Convo for the second half, a half that started shortly after 10 p.m., were treated to a frantic near-comeback by the Bobcats. After starting the final 20 minutes down 37-17, Ohio gradually began chipping away at the Purdue lead before exploding with just over 14 minutes to play.

The ‘Cats furious comeback attempt started with a four-point play by senior guard Jordan Dartis. He would score 10 points during Ohio’s 15-4 run to cut the Boiler lead all the way down to six with 11 minutes to play.

“When you get into moments like that in a game when you’re starting come back and punch away at it, you’re just in the zone,” Dartis said.

The Bobcats, however, were unable to stay in that zone as Purdue responded with a 14-5 run of their own next 4:10 to push their lead back out to 15.

“They were gassed – and I didn’t want to sub because those guys were making the run. Those guys left everything out on the floor that they had,” Boals said. “We cut it to six and we couldn’t get the stop or hit the three that we needed to.”

Over the final 11 minutes of the game, the Boilermakers outscored Ohio 22-10. The Bobcats were just 3-of-12 shooting over that final stretch and turned the ball over four times after not turning it over at all during their comeback run.

Turnovers were also a big reason the ‘Cats were in that 20-point hole to begin with. In the first 20 minutes, they gave the ball away to Purdue 12 times, directly leading to 15 points for the Boilers. They also struggled to find any rhythm on the offensive end in the first half, shooting just 30 percent while leading scorers Jason Preston and Ben Vander Plas combined to shoot just 2-of-9 and scored just 5 points.

The Bobcats two top scorers were never able to break out of that funk, largely due to Purdue’s swarming defense. Preston finished with just six points, his lowest point total of the season. He did, however, lead the team in rebounds with 10 and assists with 5. Vander Plas was held scoreless in the second half to finish with three points.

Coming into the game, the pair combined to average 30.5 points.

“Their ball pressure affected us…I’ll give it to them,” Dartis said. “They were forcing (Preston) to get rid of the ball and make other guys make shots.”

Other guys, like Dartis, Nate Springs and Lunden McDay, did eventually hit shots, but that didn’t come until after halftime.

Dartis scored 14 of his team-leading 16 points in the second half to help get the ‘Cats back in the game. He was 6-of-15 from beyond the arc.

Springs went 4-of-8 from deep to finish with 12 points. McDay did most of his damage on in the paint, finishing with 10 points and 6 rebounds.

The Bobcats don’t have long to dwell on this loss. They host game five of their six-game December homestand when Morehead State (5-6) comes to the Convo for the first time since 2016 when they met in the third round of the College Basketball Invitational postseason tournament.

That game will tip-off on Saturday at 1 p.m.