ATHENS — Basketball, much like life, is often about a game of runs. It’s about being able to withstand being punched and responding productively.
It’s a much smaller sample, but Ohio followed that principle as the team withstood a massive punch and went on to shoot 47.6% from three-point territory as they picked up their first Mid-American Conference win of the season with a 76-71 comeback victory over Ball State.
“We were tired of losing. We were like ‘Yo, we’re not losing at our own home,’” Dwight Wilson III said after the game regarding the emotions or stress with going out and grabbing their first MAC win. “The coaches challenged us defensively the entire week. I’m not going to say what they were saying but they challenged us defensively and we were pissed off that we let those games slip away.”
The Bobcats used their hot start from beyond the arc to grab a slight lead in the early minutes of the contest. Jaylin Hunter hit his first two shots from deep as Ohio started 3-4 from three-point land. Despite a relatively pedestrian 39% total in the first half, the Bobcats hit 4-9 from deep. Hunter went on to lead all scorers on the night with 23 points while also adding four assists and swiping four steals.
“It always helps when you make your first shot,” Hunter said after the game talking about his hot hand. “Once you get into the flow of the game I don’t even realize it to be honest. My goal is just to make the right play.”
Then, Jarron Coleman poured in five of his team-leading 17 points for Ball State to kick off a run that seemingly spelt doom for the Bobcats chances at the time.
The Cardinals then jumped off to an 18-0 run that saw them go up by as much as 14 points. Ohio was held scoreless over a six minute span during that time.
The troubles weren’t just on the scoreboard however. Elmore James was given a flagrant two foul and disqualified from the game after elbowing an opponent in the face away from the ball.
Troubles don’t always last forever though.
Dwight Wilson ended the drought with a bucket inside the paint and then a fast break score from Miles Brown a few seconds later had people at the Convocation Center rumbling once again.
“You could go one of two ways. We always talk about bend but don’t break. For us it was big, withstanding their run,” Jeff Boals, the head coach of Ohio said after the win. “We switched to the zone and it was really big.”
The Bobcats subsequently went on a 13-0 run to bring the game to as close as one point with seconds left in the first half, forcing a 5+ minute drought for Ball State. The highlight of the run was a cock-back alley-oop from AJ Clayton that got the arena fired up. Clayton ultimately finished with 16 on the night on 6-9 shooting from deep. He also added six rebounds and a block.
“For him to come in and do what he did in 29 minutes… that was really big. He was +20 in his 29 minutes so give him a lot of credit.” Boals said about the play of Clayton, who is just starting to come off the bench.
The Cardinals hit one more basket before the final whistle and they went into the locker room with a 3-point advantage.
Whatever momentum they garnered with their comeback effort in the first half, Ohio continued to apply pressure in the second half.
The Bobcats chipped away at the lead for the first few minutes until Clayton drilled a three-pointer six minutes into the half to give Ohio a 41-39 lead, their first lead since early in the contest.
They didn’t relent there either. Wilson slammed home a dunk through contact that sent the crowd roaring as the Cardinals were forced into another timeout. He scored 16 of his 22 points in the second half. He picked up a double-double by grabbing 10 rebounds in the process.
“At halftime he was disappointed in himself. He was 3-9, ended up 7-15,” Boals said regarding the second half effort of Wilson. “He came out in the second half. Those last 20 minutes, he played well.
Ohio continued their barrage from deep to help build the lead. Hunter hit a couple more to make it a 4-4 mark from him on the night and Clayton added three in the second half himself. One of which earned him a technical after shooting finger guns towards the nearest opponent.
By that point, the Bobcats had built a double-digit lead with just over eight minutes remaining in the contest.
Much like the rest of the night though, it became a game of runs as Ball State wouldn’t go away easily. They were able to cut the lead to as little as two but could never get over the hump and grab the lead again.
The five-point win was significant in many ways for the Bobcats. Not only did it give Ohio their first conference win of the season, it was a complete comeback effort against one of the better teams in the MAC. It’s a mark of confidence that the team will be able to use the rest of the season as they work towards improving as a squad and eventually towards the postseason.
It doesn’t get much easier for the Bobcats either. They’ll match up against a 13-3 Kent State team who’s looking like one of the best teams in the conference early on this season. They’ll play this Friday at the Convo and will be broadcasted on the CBS Sports Network.