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Bobcats build big lead, hold off late push from Chippewas

Vander Plas, Preston help Ohio advance in MAC tournament

ATHENS – After sitting out the last game, Ben Vander Plas nearly putting up a triple-double Monday as Ohio built a huge lead and then held off a late Central Michigan push to win 85-65 in the first round of the Mid-American Conference tournament at The Convo.

Vander Plas finished with 25 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists, and Jason Preston put up big numbers across the board, too, with 21 points, seven assists and six rebounds. Jordan Dartis added 11 points and five boards.

The No. 8 Bobcats (17-15) advance to the Cleveland portion of the tournament to face No. 1 seed Akron at noon Thursday at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.

"Awesome game by our guys," Ohio Jeff Boals said. "I'm really proud of their effort and preparation."

Ohio led 60-31 early in the second half, but No. 9 seed Central Michigan (14-18) got as close as 10 with 2:40 remaining before the Bobcats closed out the game with 10 straight points.

Kevin McKay paced the Chippewas with 18 points, Dallas Morgan added 14 points, and Rob Montgomery scored 10 points with six rebounds.

The Bobcats led from start to finish, scoring the game’s first seven points on a Preson 3-pointer and layups by Lunden McDay and Preston. After Montgomery got the Chippewas on the board with a jumper, Ohio scored eight straight on Vander Plas free throws, a basket by McDay and then two straight by Vander Plas to make it 17-4.

Later in the half, Preston had 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions, and Ohio increased its lead to 27-9, and another run at the end of the first half put the Bobcats up 45-23 at the break. Preston hit from long range again to give the Bobcats their biggest lead of 29 with 15:34 remaining.

Central Michigan got its deficit under 20 by the midway point in the half, with a McKay layup making it 63-44 with 10:19 to go. McKay’s basket following a Morgan steal with 2:40 remaining got the Chippewas to within 75-65.

McDay answered with a big basket in the lane for Ohio, Vander Plas hit a pair of free throws, Dartis made two at the foul line, and then Preston threw down an alley-oop dunk to put it away.

Ohio finished just under its season-best shooting percentage, finishing at 57.4%, including 47.6% (10 of 21) on 3-pointers. Central Michigan shot just 31.8% overall, including just 3 of 25 (12.0%) from long range. It avoided being blown out by going 20 of 23 at the foul line and by forcing 15 turnovers, though it was outrebounded 42-28 by Ohio.

McDay finished with eight points and six rebounds, and Sylvester Ogbonda had seven points and seven boards.

"I want to thank the dance team, the cheer team and the band for being her over spring break," Boals said. "It added to the atmosphere. I think all year long the town of Athens has stepped up and supported this team. A lot of places I go, they love who they are off the court. They love how hard they play and love how they play together. I think you could sense that all year. And I'm really happy those guys turned out for a first-round MAC game."

For the second straight time, the Bobcats stopped the MAC’s all-time leading 3-point shooter, David DiLeo, holding him to seven points on 1-of-4 3-point shooting.

First-round MAC tournament games will be shown on ESPN+.

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