Bobcats Basketball
The Bobcats’ bench celebrates during a 77-69 win over Central Michigan on February 18, 2020. PHOTO: Yukai Peng/WOUB

Ohio Men’s Basketball: ‘Cats Cap Off OU’s 216th Birthday with Win over Central Michigan

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ATHENS, OH — At 2:16 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon, the bells of Cutler Hall rang to celebrate the 216th anniversary of the founding of Ohio University. 

At 8:57 p.m., the Convo followed suit with its buzzer, ringing in a Bobcats victory.

“Happy Birthday to Ohio University,” Ohio head coach Jeff Boals said. “Great win for the Bobcats on their birthday.”

Behind a blazing hot performance from Bobcat shooters, knocking down 13-of-27 threes, Ohio (13-13, 5-8 MAC) defeated Central Michigan (13-12, 6-6 MAC) 77-69 to win their third straight game in the Convo.

Even with the Bobcats’ hot shooting, the story of the game remained their defense. In their last three home games, Ohio has given up just 58.7 points per game. However, they were coming off of one of their worst defensive performances of the season, giving up 87 points on 53 percent shooting to the Golden Flashes, which included making an eye-popping 17-of-31 three-point attempts.

“In Saturday’s game, we were not the Ohio University Basketball team that we wanted to be,” Ohio forward Sylvester Ogbonda said. “We put emphasis on (our defense) going into the game. We wanted to put on a defensive clinic and I think we did that in spurts.”

“It was mostly just about ball pressure,” Ohio guard Jordan Dartis said. “On Saturday, we just weren’t the aggressor.”

The ball pressure that the Bobcats emphasized prior to Tuesday night was made apparent during the game. All game long, Ohio defenders did all they could to run the Chippewas, who came into the game shooting 35.1 percent as a team from long range, off the three-point line and gave them very few open looks.

That tenacity resulted in Central’s worst performance from beyond the arc in MAC play, finishing just 4-of-22 (18.2 percent).

“The reason we’ve won 3-of-4 is our defense,” Boals said. “You’re not always going to shoot well, but you can always play defense and always rebound to keep yourself in a game.”

On Tuesday, however, the Bobcats did shoot well, particularly in the second half. After missing five of their first eight shots in the second half to fall behind 41-36 with just under 16 minutes to play.

From there, Dartis, who had already caught fire in the first half, making 3-of-5 from deep, went nuclear. In a span of 1:24, the fifth-year senior sent the Convo into a frenzy with three consecutive threes to cut the Chippewa lead to one, 46-45.

From there, other Bobcats continued the hot streak that ultimately saw Ohio make 7-of-10 and take a 55-53 lead with 10:05 to play.

“I personally didn’t think (Central Michigan’s) defense was all that good, they want to play offense and push the ball,” Dartis said. “Whether they’re in zone or man…or trapping, I was just finding open spots where teammates could get me the ball and we executed.”

Dartis, who went over 300 made threes for his career in the game, scored a game-high 27 points, making 7-of-12 from three-point range, his best day from downtown since January 7.

Tuesday was also the first time that Dartis was able to see his team beat Central Michigan. Coming into the game, the Bobcats had not defeated the Chippewas since January 29, 2014.

“It’s nice. I finally beat everybody in the MAC,” Dartis said. “It’s a cool accomplishment for real.”

“He actually boosts us a lot, just seeing the ‘old head’ hitting threes,” Ogbonda said. “It gives us the energy to run back and play defense. I always think, when I get an offensive rebound, the first person I’m looking for is (Dartis).”

The ‘Cats also had strong showings from beyond the arc from Vander Plas, 3-of-5, and Lunden McDay, 2-3, on the night. All told, the Bobcats’ starting five was a blistering 13-of-23 (56.5 percent) from long range.

Four of those five Bobcat starters, including Dartis, also finished in double figures on the night. Vander Plas scored 13 points in the second half to finish with 17 for the game along with seven rebounds. Preston threw in 15 points, grabbed six rebounds and tossed out six assists. McDay ended the game with 10, marking the sixth time in the last eight games the freshman has tallied 10 or more points.

The only starter to not register in double-figures in the scoring department, Ogbonda, made his presence known in other ways. While he did manage to scratch out six points, he led the Bobcats in rebounds with 11. He also played a valuable role in the Bobcats strong defensive showing in the second half.

With just over four minutes to play, Ogbonda found himself all alone in the paint guarding the Chippewas’ leading scorer Kevin McKay. Ogbonda blocked two consecutive point-blank shots from McKay, eventually leading to a shot clock violation. 

20 seconds later, Ogbonda dunked home a perfect pass from Vander Plas to give the ‘Cats a six-point lead.

“We’re a better team when (Ogbonda’s) in the game,” Boals said. “He’s very good defensively. We need to keep him on the floor.”

Ogbonda picked up his second foul just 3:58 into the game and sat the remainder of the half. In the time he was on the bench, Central Michigan shot 50 percent from the field and 61.5 percent from inside the arch.

In the second half, where Ogbonda sat just four minutes, the Chips shot just 36.4 percent.

Tuesday night represented the sixth time in nine games that the ‘Cats were able to hold their opponent under 70 points. In those six games, they are 4-2.

As Boals said, if the Bobcats can keep playing defense, the offense may not matter as much.

“Offensively, we can compete with anybody in this league,” Dartis said. “If we can consistently focus on defense and make that our identity, I think we can definitely be a force down the stretch.”

The Bobcats have just five games left on their MAC slate and, as of the completion of Tuesday’s games, hold the No.8 spot in the conference standings. If they’re able to maintain that spot, they will have a home game come tournament time.

Up next for the ‘Cats is Bowling Green when they make the trek to Northwest Ohio to face the Falcons. Ohio nearly pulled off the upset of Bowling Green earlier this season, letting a 10-point halftime lead slip away in a 83-74 loss on January 11.

That game at the Stroh Center is set to tip at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday.