Check out the video above for highlights from Ohio's MAC semifinal victory over Toledo, brought to you by Joe Collins.

Ohio Men’s Basketball: Bobcats knock off top-seeded Rockets, advance to MAC Championship game

Posted on:

< < Back to

CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOUB) — The Ohio Bobcats (15-7) have been on a revenge tour for nearly a month now, mostly because there’s always a two or three week delay due to a covid reason. The revenge tour is beating teams the Bobcats had previously lost too earlier in the season. It started when they knocked off Akron in late February after losing to them by 20 earlier in the season. Thursday afternoon, they crossed off Kent State from the list, avenging a 10-point loss in January with a 22-point blowout in March. The next team to be crossed off the list was on Friday night when they got revenge on the Toledo Rockets. The Rockets (21-8) had beaten the Bobcats handily early in the season when they handed Ohio a 95-78 loss. The Bobcats responded in March when it mattered with a wire-to-wire 87-80 victory and advance to the MAC Championship for the first time since 2013.

“It’s good to get hot right now,” Ohio redshirt junior forward Vander Plas said.  “I think it’s everybody competing, everybody just having an unreal amount of confidence out there. We all have each other’s backs out there and each of us know that. It’s much easier to work hard when you know the guy on your left and right is doing the same thing.”

Ohio's Ben Vander Plas helped guide the Bobcats to the MAC Championship game on Friday, March 12, with a 26-point performance. (Photo: Bryan Kurp/WOUB).
Ohio’s Ben Vander Plas helped guide the Bobcats to the MAC Championship game on Friday, March 12, with a 26-point performance. (Photo: Bryan Kurp/WOUB).

Much of the Bobcats success this season can be attributed to Head Coach Jeff Boals, who in his second season as the head man for the Bobcats, turned a team stuck near the bottom of the MAC for a few years, into a team one win away from its first conference title and NCAA Tournament appearance since its magical run to the Sweet 16 in 2012. Considering that and the fact that he has a roster that had never played a MAC Tournament game in Cleveland before Thursday, truly shows how impressive his stint has been so far.

“My goal when I took the job was to put another banner up there [in the rafters of the Convo],” Jeff Boals said.  “Not one guy on this roster had come up here before and played in one of these games. To come in and play free and have fun doing it, they’ve earned the right to play for 40 minutes to earn a championship.”

In their first matchup with Toledo earlier in the year, the Rockets were by far the more aggressive team and tore apart the Bobcats from three, as they knocked down over 15 from beyond the arc. Those would be two keys for the Bobcats going into their semifinal matchup with the Rockets: be the aggressor and keep the Rockets in front of the three-point line.

The Bobcats stormed out of the game and set the tone early, never falling behind and kept pushing the pace. Leading the charge for the Bobcats was none other than Jason Preston. The junior guard continues to show why he’s been the recipient of so much national praise this year and was borderline unstoppable in the first half. Preston scored 18 points in the first half and was seven of nine from the field, meaning in his first 3 halves in Cleveland in his career with Ohio, Preston was 15 of 17 on his field goals.

“We’ve been talking to [Preston] about that all year long,” Ben Vander Plas said.  “When he comes out aggressive, he’s a whole new player. He’s unstoppable. He’s aggressive going to the rim, going off the glass, pull ups, shooting and contesting threes when he’s in that mode.”

The Bobcats other key, keeping Toledo in front of the three-point line was also executed efficiently in the first half, as the Rockets only attempted 13 threes in the first half and only connected on three, one of their lowest three-point totals in the first half this season. Spencer Littleson, who led the MAC with a nearly 50% percentage from beyond the arc in the regular season, attempted just one three-pointer in the first half, which he was able to hit.

Ben Vander Plas would nail a three-pointer in the corner right before the end of the half to give the Bobcats a 43-31 lead going into the break.

In the second half, Vander Plas and Preston picked right back up where they left off in the first and connected many times with each other, helping Ohio build up a lead of more than 18 points in the game. Being the two leaders and longest tenured players on the Bobcats team, those two are looked upon as leaders, and that’s exactly what they have been with this young group. Coach Boals notes what having those two on a team does not only for the players, but for opposing teams.

“Those Guys (Preston and Vander Plas) have been solid for us all year long,” Boals said.  “JP in the first half was phenomenal; he hit some big threes for us and made some great finishes. BVP is a matchup nightmare for a lot of people. Those two have really good chemistry.”

Toledo ever so slowly would creep back into the game due to the stellar play of the Mid-American Conference Player of the Year, Marreon Jackson and Setric Millner Jr. Jackson led all players with 29 points during the contest and hit five three-pointers while Millner would finish with 26 points.

The Rockets pulled within seven with under a minute to go, but the ball was put into the hands of Jason Preston and once again, found Ben Vander Plas on the left wing and he knocked down the triple and plunged the dagger deep into the heart of the one-seeded Rockets. Preston led the Bobcats in scoring with 27 while Vander Plas was not far behind with 26.

After Marreon Jackson missed a long range three, Miles Brown grabbed the rebound and gave it to Jason Preston, who tossed the ball high into the air as the horn at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse sounded, signaling Ohio’s victory.

As mentioned before, this win advances Ohio to the MAC Championship game Saturday night where the Bobcats will look to advance to the NCAA Tournament with a win. The Bobcats will take on the Buffalo Bulls, who defeated Akron in overtime 81-72 in the game right after Ohio and Toledo. The two teams met twice in the season, with the road teams both getting the victory. Ohio won the first contest, a nail-bitter 76-75 while the Bulls blew out the Bobcats a few weeks ago in Athens, 86-66.  This matchup has a sort of Dynasty vs. Destiny feel to it. The Bulls are the dynasty because they will be going for their fifth MAC championship in six years. The Bobcats are the destiny side of this because they had been near the bottom of the conference for a few years, but ever since Jeff Boals was hired as head coach, they’ve began to rise up and can complete their accension back to the top of MAC Mountain with a victory.

The two will meet for the third and final time this year Saturday night at 7:30 pm live from Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland.