Bobcats Basketball
PHOTO: Nick Viland/WOUB

Ohio Men’s Basketball: ‘Cats Make Statement in Win over Buffalo

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ATHENS, Ohio — Since Mid-American Conference play began back in the first week of January, the Bobcats have been searching for their “turning point”. They’ve twice blown sizeable halftime leads to MAC-leading Bowling Green, dropped a shootout to Akron, and lost in the final 20 seconds at Northern Illinois and Buffalo.

Tuesday night, after all of those heartbreaking losses to top-flight MAC teams, the Bobcats may have finally turned the corner and put the rest of the MAC on notice.

“We played a whole 40 minutes,” Ohio guard Jason Preston said. “We haven’t really done that yet.”

Not only did they play “a whole 40 minutes”, the Bobcats (14-14, 6-9 MAC) led for a whole 40 minutes, pulling off a wire-to-wire 80-69 victory over Buffalo (18-10, 9-6 MAC) to win their fourth consecutive game in the Convo.

“Our guys have a lot of confidence – they believe in each other,” Ohio head coach Jeff Boals said. “Right now, you’re in the dog days (of the season), it’s money time, you’re close to March. This is when you want to be playing your best basketball, and I think we are.”

Despite suffering a last-second loss at Bowling Green on Saturday, the ‘Cats showed no sign of a hangover in the early going against Buffalo. From the tip, Ohio was all over the Bulls on both ends of the floor on their way to an 18-0 run over the first seven minutes of play.

During that span, the Bobcats came out blazing hot from the field, shooting 7-of-12 (4-of-9 from three) all while forcing the Bulls into an 0-of-9 shooting start.

“Our defense carried us,” Preston said of the early run. “I think it’s just taking pride in the defensive end and landing the first punch.”

However, on the offensive end, the Bobcats got a huge boost on Tuesday night from a different place than usual. Freshman Ben Roderick, who missed a free throw that could have iced the game for the Bobcats this past Saturday, came out firing and never stopped.

Roderick started 3-for-3 from long distance in the first five minutes of the game and went on to have his best game as a Bobcat in his young career. Making just his second start, Roderick scored a career-high 21 points, making a career-high six 3-pointers to do it.

“Right when I got that first shot, I knew it was in when it left my hands,” Roderick said. “It was a great feeling.”

The reigning Ohio Gatorade Player of the Year had just eight points in his first career start against the Falcons and was just 4-of-14 from three over the last four games, but he kept working.

“Every day in practice, I just keep getting up extra shots, watching film with my coaches and tonight it finally paid off,” Roderick said. “Now I just got to build on this.”

“In this game, confidence is everything. (Ben’s) one of a few guys on our team that can make a tough shot with a hand in his face, and you just need one to go in. Once you see that one go in, the next one is a little easier,” Boals said of Roderick. “He was huge for us.”

Roderick became the second Bobcat to hit at least six threes in a game this season and sits third on the team in made threes with 29.

However, despite the hot start, the Bobcats nearly let the Bulls come all the way back. With 7:38 to play in the first half, just a little under four and a half minutes after the Bobcats had their largest lead of the game, 22 points, Buffalo trailed by just five points. 

The ‘Cats were able to close the first half on a 14-6 run to push their lead back out to 13 at halftime, but the cloud of the Bobcats’ blown leads had crept back into the Convo.

But this was exactly what they had practiced for.

“We actually did a halftime simulation at practice. Coming out of halftime, we’ve been sluggish this year. Halfway through practice, we went into the locker room, came back out with three minutes on the clock and did our layup lines,” Preston said. “It helped prepare us for tonight.”

“It was something different. There have been some halftimes this season where we come out and the other team makes a run,” Boals said. “I went in there (tonight) and said ‘Hey, do I need to yell at you?… Because I will’ and they said, ‘We got you’ and they have.”

The simulated halftime seemed to work out for the Bobcats. In the second half, despite being outscored by the Bulls by two points, they never allowed them to get closer than seven points. Of the 20 minutes that the ‘Cats led in the second half, all but 3:54 of that they held a lead of 10 or more points. 

Ohio was able to keep the Bulls at arm’s length even with the onslaught of whistles they faced in the opening minutes of the second half that saw Buffalo in the bonus starting at the 14:50 mark.

While the Bobcats weren’t far behind, entering the bonus at the 12:36 mark, the officials made their presence known early and often in a second half that ended with 27 fouls being called between both teams.

Both teams attempted at least 20 free throws in the final 20 minutes, but even with the pace of play being bogged down, Boals was glad to see his team maintain their defensive pressure despite the whistles.

“It was a weird game from a calls standpoint. (Buffalo) is going to initiate contact, some calls they let go and some we got called for fouls. That’s part of the reason we went to a zone in the second half,” Boals said. “The only thing you want is consistency on both ends. I thought with their pressure, we needed to be able to get those calls and we did.

On the night, the ‘Cats attempted a season-high 31 foul shots and made a season-high 23.

From the foul line, Preston led the way for the Bobcats, making six of his seven attempts. The sophomore point guard was also Ohio’s second-leading scorer on the night, totaling 19 points. He also grabbed 10 rebounds to notch his eighth double-double of the season.

Preston also provided the dagger for the ‘Cats when, with just under three minutes to play, he knocked down a deep three from the edge of the midcourt logo to put Ohio back on top by 12.

Rounding out the Bobcats scoring leaders were Ben Vander Plas and Jordan Dartis. Vander Plas tossed in 14 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out a team-high five assists before fouling out with 3:36 to play.

Dartis, who struggled to find the range from three (1-of-6), found other ways to score, whether it be off the dribble or at the foul line to finish with 12 points.

Even though they were able to pull off their biggest win of the season to date, the Bobcats still dropped in the overall MAC standings. However, winning can still fix that.

Since conference play began, the Bobcats have defended their home court well, winning five of their eight MAC games in the Convo.

On Friday, another big test for the ‘Cats comes to Athens. Kent State, a team that shot the lights out in the first meeting between the teams on February 15, pays their annual visit to Athens for the Bobcats’ Senior Night.

What could be the final home game for Jordan Dartis is set to tip-off at 6:30 p.m. on Friday night.