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BOBCATS GOING DANCING!

Preston leads Ohio's dominant win over Buffalo for MAC title


MAC Photo
CLEVELAND ?Jeff Boals and the Bobcats danced on the court, and next week, they will be dancing in the NCAA Tournament.

Ohio completed a dominant run through the Mid-American Conference tournament Saturday night with an 84-69 victory against Buffalo in the title game to clinch a spot in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012.

As he does after every win, Boals, in just his second year as coach, led the Bobcats in a celebration dance, this time on the floor of Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. They trailed for less than three minutes in the three games of the tournament and ran out to a 20-point halftime lead against the Bulls, who got only as close as 10 points in the second half.

揥hen you recruit high character guys who love each other, who play at a school that they love and play the game that they love, special things happen, and this group is going to have the memory of a lifetime now,?Boals said.

Tournament MVP Jason Preston had 22 points, seven assists, six rebounds and five steals, and Ben Roderick broke out of a shooting slump to score 20 points. Dwight Wilson III added 17 points and seven boards.

High-scoring Buffalo, winner of four of the five past MAC tournaments, shot just 23.1% in the first half and fell into an insurmountable 41-21 hole at the break. The Bulls cut their deficit in half midway through the second half, but the Bobcats answered with a knockout 9-0 run to back up by 19 points with 7:59 remaining.

Ronaldo Segu led Buffalo with 24 points, but it came on 8 of 22 shooting. Josh Mballa had a double-double of 16 points and 11 rebounds. Jayvon Graves was 4 of 14 from the field to manage 13 points with five turnovers.

Preston scored the game抯 first points on a jumper, but Buffalo briefly took the lead on a LaQuill Hardnett 3-pointer and added to it with a Josh Mballa basket. Roderick scored back-to-back baskets on Preston assists, and Ohio did not trail again.

Wilson added a layup, and then Preston hit consecutive jumpers, the second one from long range, and Ben Vander Plas added a 3-pointer, completing a 16-0 run that put the Bobcats in control, 18-5, with 12:31 left in the first half.

揈specially after the first two games went, if we just come out aggressive, come out with a hot start, the game becomes a lot simpler, so we got out to that quick lead,?Vander Plas said.

Mballa hit a pair of free throws to finally end Buffalo抯 scoring drought, and after a Colin Granger layup, Graves made one free throw before Mballa made the Bulls first field goal in nearly eight minutes to make it 20-10.

Later, back-to-back 3-pointers by Preston and Roderick pushed Ohio抯 advantage to 30-13 at the 4:46 mark, and a pair of Roderick free throws made it 34-15 with 3:32 remaining. Vander Plas assisted a Preston 3-pointer in the closing seconds of the first half to put the Bobcats up by 20.

揟hey played very good defense, and I thought our ball movement was very stagnant,?Buffalo coach Jim Whitesell said.

Buffalo found some offense in the second half, cutting Ohio抯 lead to 43-30 on an Mballa layup with 15:33 to go. With a 13-point lead a few minutes later, the Bobcats got a Roderick 3-pointer and then a Preston layup to build a cushion again.

A little later, Buffalo went on an 8-0 run, beginning with an Mballa layup and then six straight points by Segu to get to within 10 at 52-42, but Ohio had the answer with a Vander Plas 3-pointer, a Wilson three-point play and then another Vander Plas 3-pointer to make it 61-42 with under eight minutes left to play.

揥e knew we couldn抰 get it to single digits,?Preston said. 揥e knew we had to maintain our composure. We knew they抎 make their run obviously. They抮e a good team, but we stayed poised, and we gutted it out.?/P>

The closest Buffalo got after that was 72-60 on a Segu layup with 2:33 remaining. Ohio answered by making 5 of 6 free throws and then getting a breakaway dunk from Roderick after a Preston steal. Buffalo continued to foul frequently but could not close the gap.

Buffalo finished just 22 of 64 (34.4%) from the field, including 5 of 19 (26.3%) from 3-point range, while Ohio shot 50% overall and was 8 of 15 from long range. It also went 18 of 23 from the foul line.

Vander Plas fell just short of double figures with nine points on 3-of-5 3-point shooting to go with five rebounds and five assists. Mark Sears had eight points in just 12 minutes. Buffalo抯 bench did not score.

After missing its final two games of the regular season because of roster issues created by COVID-19 concerns, the No. 5 seed Bobcats ran through the MAC Tournament with an 85-63 rout of short-handed Kent State in the quarterfinals and then an 87-80 win against top-seeded Toledo. Ohio led that game by as many as 18 points.

After struggling for a short period while Preston missed time with an injury, Ohio won four straight games from Jan. 23 through Feb. 2 and then pushed its winning streak to six with two wins following its first COVID pause that led to a three-week break before games. Buffalo pounded the Bobcats 86-66 on Feb. 27 to snap the winning streak, and that turned out to be the last game Ohio played before the MAC Tournament.

揥e talk about resiliency and handling adversity, and our guys did that,?Boals said.

The last and only other time Ohio met Buffalo in the MAC championship game was in 2005 when it topped the Bulls 80-79 in overtime on a Leon Williams tip-in at the buzzer.

Despite losing to Akron the last time they reached the tournament final in 2013, the Bobcats improved to 7-2 all-time in the championship game, including a blowout win over Miami in 1994 when Boals was a player.

揑 wanted them to experience what I experienced,?Boals said.

Ohio抯 last NCAA Tournament appearance was in 2012 when it made a run to the Sweet 16 before losing in overtime to North Carolina.

The NCAA Tournament Selection Show is 6 p.m. Sunday on CBS.







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