Heading to Philly

Ohio center Sylvester Ogbonda (left) and the Bobcats will face No. 10 Villanova (1-1) in the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019. The Bobcats (3-0) are 2-0 in true road games this season.

Jeff Boals might have a problem.

Ohio’s first-year men’s basketball coach has celebrated each of the Bobcats first two road wins of the season by entering the Bobcats’ locker room in various fits of a dancing frenzy — dutifully filmed for the social media interactions afterward by a manager.

The clips have been in a big hit as Boals’ gyrations look like something you’d expect from a 47-year old former college athlete mimicking current trends.

After Ohio’s 81-72 win at Iona on Wednesday, Boals strode into the locker room with a loping, exaggerated arm-flowing motion that he called “the billionaire walk.” He was much different from the knee-jerking displayed a week before in a road win at St. Bonaventure.

Hence, the ‘problem.’ With Ohio a surprising 3-0 after three games, does Boals have enough distinct dances in his arsenal to bust new moves after each win? It’s an issue he hopes to have to think about.

“Let’s hope we have to figure it out,” he said.

Boals said he picked up the need to celebrate wins from Mark Schmidt, his former boss at St. Bonaventure. He’s not about to curtail the celebrations now with the Bobcats trying to build and foster a winning season during a year when many expect the Bobcats to face challenges in the win-loss department.

“We always used to celebrate the wins (at St. Bonaventure) because you never knew when the next one was coming,” Boals said.

“Especially when you’re trying to build something up, you want these guys to enjoy and be excited about winning,” he continued. “And also, not forget what it takes to prepare to win and you don’t ever get tired of that.”

If Ohio makes it a third-straight road win to the open the season on Saturday, Boals might never stop dancing. The Bobcats travel to Philadelphia for a 12 p.m start against No. 10 Villanova (1-1) inside the Wells Fargo Center. The game will air live on FS2.

The Wildcats represent the biggest opponent for Ohio on the non-conference portion of the schedule. Veteran head coach Jay Wright has helped Villanova own the Big East in the last half-decade, and the Wildcats have two national championships in the last five years.

The key, Boals said, is for Ohio to simply embrace the task at hand. Boals, who said he wore a purple tie on Wednesday as a nod to Evansville’s upset win at No. 1 Kentucky this week, acknowledges the talent level the Bobcats will be facing is considerably higher than anything they’ve seen so far.

“Embrace it,” Boals said. “Play loose and play like we play.

“When you play a team like Villanova your margin for error is a lot less,” he added. “You can’t give up 15, 16 offensive rebounds. You can’t give up three or four wide open 3s in transition. We have to do a lot of the little things and do them well.”

Villanova will have superior talent. Freshman forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl was a McDonald’s All-American last year and signed as the No. 14 prospect in the country. Freshman guard Justin Moore was ranked No. 52. Another McDonald’s All-American, freshman Bryan Antoine, was the No. 15 prospect in the nation last year.

But the Wildcats are young. Sophomore forward Saddiq Bey (All-Freshman honoree in the Big East last year), junior wing Jermaine Samuels and junior guard Collin Gillespie (10.9 ppg last year) join Robinson-Earl and Moore in the starting five. There are no seniors in the rotation at the moment.

“They got great size across the board. They got some young players who are still trying to figure it out like we do,” Boals said.

Villanova will be motivated. The Wildcats were blown out, 76-51, at No. 16 Ohio State on Wednesday. The Buckeyes hit 14 of their first 20 shots, Villanova missed 16 of their first 19, and the rout (36-10) was on before the first half ended.

“You play your game. You can’t worry about what someone else is doing,” Boals said. “I think our guys have done a good job of that. Locking in on the moment. Worrying about what we do. That’s what we need to approach it as.”

Is there reason to believe Ohio can make a game of it? Well, yes. The Bobcats have been scorching from the 3-point arc to start the season. OU’s make rate of 45.9 percent from 3 ranks ninth in the country, and Ohio has had all eight players in the rotation make more than one 3-pointer already this season.

And sophomore point guard Jason Preston has given the Bobcats’ a clear on-court leader on the offensive end. Boals has called him “the head of the snake” for OU, and with good reason. Preston is averaging 18.0 points, 9.0 rebounds and 9.7 assists per game this season.

With sophomore Ben Vander Plas (14.0 ppg) and senior Jordan Dartis (13.7 ppg) playing well without having to be tasked with creating offense, the Bobcats are ahead of schedule on the offensive end.

But will all of that show against a Top 10 caliber team on the road?

“Just stay focused and just play with the energy we’ve been playing with,” Dartis said. “It’s a high major team so you should play even harder. They’re going to get our best punch.

“Play with the most energy you got. We’ll get a day off on Sunday. Leave it all on the court.”

Email at jarkley@athensmessenger.com; follow on Twitter @JasonAmessenger

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