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Ohio Men’s Basketball’s MAC Tournament run falls short with loss to Kent State

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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOUB) — 2:56 left in the game, Miles Brown had just made a huge three that brought the game within two points. The Ohio crowd was electric as “OU, Oh Yeah,” chants rang throughout Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, and despite everything that had gone wrong up to that point, Ohio had put themselves in a position to pull ahead thanks to a 19 to six run.

Then, Malique Jacobs hits a jumper in the paint. Ben Vander Plas turns the ball over on a pass to the corner. Jacobs hits another jumper. Miles Brown then misses a three and Kent State rebounds. A six-point lead by Kent State (23-9) would be the final as they win 67-61 over the Bobcats (24-9), ending their quest in hopes to repeat as MAC Champions.

“Proud of our guys for fighting back,” Ohio head coach Jeff Boals said. “I thought down two with a couple minutes to go, we just needed to get at least one or two stops. Our guys battled, but when you battle your way back into it like that, you got to make those plays to pull ahead.”

The Bobcats went into their MAC Tournament semifinal game with Kent State knowing that it was going to be tough to score in the paint because of the Golden Flashes size advantage over Ohio. They hoped that their good ball movement they had used throughout the year would be able to make up for their size disadvantage. It didn’t work well. The Bobcats managed just five assists as a team, a season low.

“They (Kent State) did a good job of pressuring the ball and disrupting the timing on offense,” Ohio redshirt senior forward Ben Vander Plas said. “When a team does that, a lot of the times it disrupts you and takes away from what you’re trying to do. We’re a team that likes to move the ball around, so our assist numbers are usually way up.”

Ohio's Ben Vander Plas attempts a three-point shot in the first half of the Bobcats' MAC semifinal game against Kent State on March 11, 2022.
Ohio’s Ben Vander Plas attempts a three-point shot in the first half of the Bobcats’ MAC semifinal game against Kent State on March 11, 2022.

The size disadvantage played a big factor in one statistical category: the rebounding department. Kent State won the rebound battle 40-27, 12 of those 40 being offensive rebounds. In a game that got as close as this one did, extra possessions are critical, which is why the Golden Flashes had 10 more field goal attempts, despite turning the ball over more.

“When you’re missing shots, you need to create some opportunities in transition or offensive rebounds and we weren’t really able to generate any of the chances from offensive rebounds that we wanted to,” Boals explained.

Considering the last time these two teams played, a game nearly three weeks ago that Kent State dominated 75-52, the Bobcats had done more scouting on Kent State and realized that they foul more than almost every team in the conference. So, Ohio hoped to get to the charity stripe to

get some free points. They did, but they didn’t take advantage of it. On 24 attempts, they made just 15 free throws, good for just about 63%.

“They’re a team that fouls a lot,” Boals pointed out. “I think they’re second in the league in fouls, so you got to take advantage of it. We got to the line 24 times. In a close game like that where you only make 15, that’s a big difference.”

Leading the charge for the Golden Flashes alongside 2022 MAC Player of the Year Sincere Carry was transfer guard Malique Jacobs. Carry finished with 16 points on six of 18 shooting, but Jacobs turned out to be the story of the night. Jacobs was an efficient nine of 13 from the field and led Kent with 19 points, including two clutch jumpers in the finals 2 minutes to put Ohio away.

“We knew the last 10 or 12 minutes it was going to be either number two (Jacobs) or number three (Carry),” Boals pointed out. “Give them credit, they made some tough shots, and the one they didn’t, they got the offensive rebound and ended up scoring off it.”

While Ohio did not play its best game by any means, there were a lot of factors leading into the game that didn’t go their way.

“Tommy Schmock, he gave us everything he had,” Boals explained. Jason Carter wasn’t the same player the last five or six weeks. He was battling a microfracture of his tibia, so he wasn’t practicing a whole lot. You could tell he wasn’t the same. Give him credit though, he battled.”

That would explain why Schmock, who had started to establish himself as a reliable sixth man down the stretch of the season, managed only six points on the night.

Even after all of that, Ohio still had a legitimate chance to win. However, little things like a missed free throw, an extra possession or not scoring enough in the post is why the Golden Flashes will be playing for a chance to go to the NCAA Tournament Saturday and not Ohio.

“In a game like that, it’s the little things you have to do in order to win,” Vander Plas said.

For the Bobcats and its fanbase, it’s hard to look back a month ago and not feel a little disappointed. The team was 19-3 and talks were in place of Ohio possibly having a good enough record to earn an at large bid to the NCAA Tournament if they won all of their games going forward even if they lost the MAC Championship game. A couple weeks later, the team finished the year by dropping six of their last 11 and will be going home empty.

“It’s disappointing the way we ended, but that’s not going to take away from the year these guys had, Boals exclaimed. “These are high character guys and I love them to death. We put ourselves in a position where we were in first place, but some things caught up to us like the schedule and injuries.”

When it comes to whether or not the Bobcats will accept an invitation to compete in the NIT, Ohio has talked about it, but currently has no official decision.

“We’ll take a look at it because we signed a couple contracts,” Boals explained. “We talked to the seniors, and they want to continue to play so we’ll see Sunday night. We’ll decompress here. Obviously, it’s tough to talk about that after a loss because when you get so close after experiencing what we had last year, it’s tough because it’s hard. Some teams don’t make it to this point.”

Where do the Bobcats go from here? The same thing that every team goes through in the offseason. Seniors like Jason Carter and Tommy Schmock will leave. Some players will enter the transfer portal, while some will come to Ohio through it and an impressive freshman class led by AJ Brown and Elmore James IV will be here next year. There’s one question everyone wants to know, however. What about Ben Vander Plas? He does have an extra year of eligibility but doesn’t have an answer at this point.

“No decision yet,” Vander Plas reassures. “Just thankful for this year. It’s been a fun ride. We did a lot of things that our school hadn’t done for a little while. It was great to have fans back in the stands the whole year. Really, really enjoyable year. For now, I’m going to sit back, decompress a little bit and sit down with coach and my family and I’ll make that decision at some point.”

For now, Ohio heads back to Athens and awaits an announcement on whether it will be in a postseason tournament. However, the memories of this loss implanted in their minds, hungry to get back to Cleveland in 2023 and go back to the NCAA Tournament.