Preston Ohio Basketball
Jason Preston (0) looks for a open man during the Bobcats’ 83-74 loss to Toledo on January 21, 2020. PHOTO: Ben Weilgopolski/WOUB

Ohio Men’s Basketball: ‘Cats ‘Close’, But Still Fall to Red-Hot Rockets

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ATHENS, OH — In the month of January, since Mid-American Conference play began, the Bobcats have scratched and clawed their way to a lead in the second half of all five games they have played. They won just two of those games.

“You know, like I told our guys after the game, we’re close. But you know how many games are we going to say that,” Ohio head coach Jeff Boals said. “A few possessions here or there – you’re not 2-4, you’re 5-1.”

For the first time in MAC play, Ohio (10-9, 2-4 MAC) was unable to take a lead at any point in the second half, falling to Toledo’s (11-8, 3-3 MAC) hot shooting, 83-74.

Despite scoring 46 points in the final 20 minutes of play, the ‘Cats were unable to keep up with the Rockets. After halftime, Toledo made 18 of their 28 shot attempts (64 percent) to keep Ohio at arm’s length for the entire half, Ohio never coming closer than nine points down in the final 12 minutes of play.

“They’re a great offensive team,” Ohio guard Jason Preston said. “They’re able to drive in and they have great shooters. It’s hard to stop.”

Toledo was able to take what had been a close game for the first 25 minutes and turn it into a double-digit deficit for the Bobcats in what seemed like the blink of an eye. On three consecutive trips down the floor, the Rockets were able to knock down contested threes to grow their lead from four points to nine in just 1:13 of game time.

The deficit only ballooned from there as the Rockets scored on 13 of their next 17 possessions to bury the Bobcats, leading by as much as 18.

“I thought there were three big shots that they made. Saunders had two of them. And we were step and a half off of him,” Boals said. “You got to force them to floor the basketball. And we didn’t do that on those two.”

“They started hitting shots so we couldn’t dig and Ben (Vander Plas) was in foul trouble,” Preston said. “We were in no man’s land.” 

Ben Vander Plas, who came into the game averaging over 33 minutes per game, played just 24 minutes on Tuesday night. The redshirt-sophomore forward picked up his third foul with 7:48 to play in the first half and remained on the bench until after halftime. He was able to play for 15 minutes in the second half but fouled out with just over two minutes to play having scored just nine points.

“Our offense changed a little bit with him in foul trouble,” Preston said. “He’s a guy that we like to get it to in the post but we didn’t really have that look today.”

Without the offensive production that the Bobcats have become accustomed to from Vander Plas, who came into the game averaging 20 points in MAC play, the offense relied more on the scoring ability of Preston.

He responded with 27 points, tying a career-high set a week ago in Buffalo, to go along with eight assists and seven rebounds. He made 11 of his 21 shot attempts but didn’t receive much help on the offensive end.

Freshman Ben Roderick stepped up in place of Vander Plas, scoring a new career-high 11 points on the night in 20 minutes of play, his most playing time in a home game so far this season.

Roderick showed flashes of what made him such a prized recruit for the Bobcats last spring, hitting three of his five three-point attempts and finishing a pretty Euro step on a transition layup.

“Ben Roderick hit some shots, which we needed,” Boals said. “He’s got the ability to do that and I think the more he plays and gets minutes, he’ll be able to do that.”

“I just think just getting confidence with me,” Roderick said. “I think every day in practice I just keep working really hard – watching film and just keep working on my defense.”

Preston and Roderick combined to shoot 15-of-29 from the field. The rest of the Bobcats shot just 13-of-43, including a dismal 4-of-18 from three. No other Bobcat had more than nine points on the night.

“We probably missed 15 shots in the paint that we should have made, could have made. When you play a team like this, they want to try to outscore you,” Boals said. “You can’t afford to miss those easy ones.”

The Bobcats were just 20-of-46 (43.4 percent) inside the arc on Tuesday night. Coming into the game, they were shooting 52.5 percent from that range.

But, even despite those numbers and the lack of production from key members of the Bobcat offense, such as Dartis (eight points on 2-of-11 shooting) and Vander Plas, the Bobcats were able to score with one of the top offenses in the MAC.

“It’s, like, a matter of doing it consistently. Because we’ve shown we can be pretty good in spurts in every game,” Boals said. “Now it’s just a matter of being consistent because it’s an unforgiving league.”

Unforgiving is certainly the correct word. From this Toledo offense, the ‘Cats will play host to the top-ranked team in NET rating in the conference on Saturday when Akron invades the Convo. The Zips (15-4, 4-1 MAC) are coming off a 21-point beatdown of Miami and look to beat the Bobcats for the 12th time in the last 17 meetings between the MAC East rivals.

That game is set to tip-off at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in the Convo.