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Bobcats go on big 2nd half run to pull away from Cardinals

Carter, Sears have huge double-doubles

CLEVELAND – Ohio’s struggling offense came to life with a huge second-half run in a 77-67 victory against Ball State in the quarterfinals of the Mid-American Conference basketball tournament Thursday night at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

Leading by just four with less than 10 minutes remaining, the No. 3 seed Bobcats (24-8) scored 17 straight points to run away from the No. 6 seed Cardinals (14-17) and snap their three-game losing streak.

Mark Sears scored 24 points with 10 rebounds and five assists, and Jason Carter tallied 20 points with 18 rebounds. Ben Vander Plas and Miles Brown added 14 and 13 points, respectively.

"It's great to be back in Cleveland," Ohio coach Jeff Boals said. "It's something that we aim to do. It's one of our goals. You know, we kind of limped in the last two weeks of the season. And we took a couple days off, refreshed mentally and physically and had a great competitive spirit of practice on Monday. I thought our guys came out with the right mindset."

Ball State cut an 11-point Ohio lead down to four with a 7-0 run of its own, but Carter ignited the Bobcats beginning with a shot in the paint and then threw down a dunk on an assist from Sears. Brown scored at the basket to put the Bobcats back up double digits.

"Jason Carter came back here for a reason and that was to go to the NCAA Tournament," Boals said. "Tonight he played like it."

Brown and Sears combined to hit five free throws and then Sears connected on back-to-back 3-pointers, making it 72-51 with 6:11 to go. A Vander Plas 3-pointer put the Bobcats up 75-52 with 3:38 left.

Ball State scored the game’s final 13 points.

The Cardinals built a 21-15 lead in the first eight minutes with the Bobcats struggling to hit shots before Tommy Schmock finally got a 3-pointer to fall after three bounces on the rim.

A short time later, Ohio trailed 26-21 when it scored 11 in a row, starting with a Sears three-point play. Sears had a steal for a layup to tie the game at 26, and then Vander Plas and Sears followed with 3-pointers, making it 32-26.

Tyler Cochran connected on a 3-pointer to cut Ball State’s deficit to 36-35 at halftime, but Ohio came out in the second half with the first 10 points, going up 46-35 on a Vander Plas 3-pointer.

Payton Sparks paced the Cardinals with 20 points and 14 rebounds. Cochran had 16 points and four steals.

"A major thing coming into the game was rebounding," Carter said. "Especially toward the end of the season, like the last couple of games, my rebounding hasn't been well. These guys tell me all the time, like we got to rebound and, you know, just sometimes the ball bounces your way too. You got to get a little lucky. But you got to crash hard every time and that was a big, big part of what we did."

All of the top seeds won in the quarterfinals. No. 1 Toledo meets No. 4 Akron in the first semifinal at 5 p.m. Friday. Ohio takes on No. 2 Kent State in the second game at about 7:30 p.m. Both games are on CBS Sports Network.

"I thought Bobcat nation showed up tonight like they always do," Boals said. "Looking forward to tomorrow night's semifinal game. Probably should have even more Bobcats in the stands, but really proud of our guys' effort."

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