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Healthy Bobcats blow out Golden Flashes in tounament quarterfinals

Down 2 starters, Golden Flashes no match

CLEVELAND – Questions surrounded both Ohio and Kent State regarding which players would be available in the quarterfinals of the Mid-American Conference men’s basketball tournament Thursday afternoon at Rocket Mortgage Field House.

It turned out the Golden Flashes were down two starters while the Bobcats were at nearly fully strength, and it showed in Ohio’s 85-63 rout.

Kent State played without All-MAC first-team forward Danny Pippen, who had missed the team’s final regular season game, for undisclosed reasons, and they also were without injured All-MAC third-team guard Michael Nuga.

Against the short-handed Golden Flashes, the Bobcats shot a sizzling 58.8%, including 68.2% in the first half. Jason Preston led the way with 19 points on 8-of-8 shooting. He added four rebounds and four assists, and Lunden McDay scored 18 points.

The No. 5 seed, Ohio (14-7) advances to take on top-seeded Toledo in the semifinals at 5 p.m. Friday on CBS Sports Network. The Rockets survived No. 8 seed Ball State 91-89 in overtime.

"I'm really proud of our guys," Ohio coach Jeff Boals said. "I thought they came out and competed for 40 minutes. Considering what happened in our first game against Kent State, I thought we controlled the tempo of the game. I was really happy with our mindset coming in and we are fortunate to get the win today."

The Golden Flashes beat the Bobcats 89-79 in their only regular season meeting Jan. 16. Ohio’s 22-point victory was among its largest ever in the MAC tournament.

Ohio set the tone early, scoring seven straight points after Kent State opened the game with a 3-pointer. The lead reached double figures at 15-4 on a Ben Vander Plas 3-pointer.

A Pair of Justyn Hamilton free throws closed the gap to 18-14 midway through the first half, but Ohio pushed its lead up to 37-25 by halftime. Less than five minutes into the second half, a Preston basket off of a turnover made it a 20-point game at 50-30.

"I was just picking my spots," Preston said "Our team is very unselfish, and my teammates did a great job of hitting me in stride and I found a couple of easy baskets around the rim. It was nice to have that kind of day."

Ben Roderick’s free throw with 10:34 remaining put Ohio ahead 61-36, and a couple minutes later he connected from long range to make it 69-41 for the biggest advantage of the game.

"Our guys all year have stepped up and performed in situations," Boals said. "Give those guys credit. When their number is called to come in, they do a great job. I think the balance of our team and the selflessness of our team has been really key all year long. We led the league in assists and were one of the top teams in the country. We had almost six guys in double figures today and I just love the balance of our team offensively.”

Tervell Beck and Malique Jacobs had 16 points each to lead Kent State. Hamilton, who also missed Kent State’s final regular season game, was in the starting lineup but scored only three points with six rebounds. Sharpshooter Giovanni Santiago was just 1 of 8 for three points.

Kent State shot just 38.5% for the game, including 29.2% in the first half.

The Bobcats had their final two games of the regular season – and seven of their last 10 – canceled because of COVID-19 contact tracing, and there were some questions about which players might still not be available. It seemed that only seldom-used reserve Rifen Miguel was absent.

Ohio had played only three games since Feb. 2.

Miles Brown came off the bench to score 11 points for Ohio, while Dwight Wilson just missed a double-double with 10 points and nine rebounds. Vander Plas had 10 points, and Roderick finished with nine.

Next up is the MAC regular season Rockets, who beat the Bobcats, who were without Preston, 95-78 on Jan. 8.

"Toledo is a great team," Preston said. "They play about six deep, and all five guys are threats on offense. Our defense has to be laser-sharp and laser-focused. We really have to lock in and hone in on these guys."

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