The #5 Ohio Bobcats continued a Cinderella run by defeating the #1 seeded Toledo Rockets by a final scroe of 87-80 in the first semifinal at the 2021 Mid-American Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament in Cleveland, Ohio, on Friday evening.
It was the second such win in just under a day for the ‘Cats, who had previously beated #4 seed Kent State in their quarterfinal match on Thursday.
Jason Preston, who had a perfect day from the field in that game, continued his stellar play at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse with 18 first half points. As a team, the Bobcats made 7 of 14 three point attempts in that opening half. The Bobcats also were limiting Toledo to only one shot and held a 23-15 rebound advantage.
Ohio was in control during the first half, enjoying a wire-to-wire lead in the first 20 minutes. They were able to extend their lead by as much as 14 at one point, before taking a 43-31 lead into the locker room at halftime after a brief Toledo run.
The second half for Ohio turned out to be even better. The Bobcats built a lead as high as 18 at one point. Preston, Ben Vander Plas and Dwight Wilson seemed to make a play every time the Rockets appeared ready to make a run. The Rockets never had the lead in this game and seemed almost lifeless at times. Considering their overtime scare against #8 Ball State on Thursday, one would have towonder if the overtime game in the quarterfinals had them fatigued.
The Rockets did create some problems late with a full court press, and actually cut the lead to only six in the waning seconds, but Ohio held on for the 87-80 win.
Preston finished with 27 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists for Ohio. Vander Plas added 26 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists. Marreon Jackson had a game-high 29 points for the Rockets, and teammate Millner finished with 26 points and 9 rebounds.
Ohio improves to 15-7 on the season and advances to the 2021 MAC Championship Game versus the winner of the Buffalo and Akron semifinal game. Toledo, the regular season MAC champs, fall to 21-8.
Toledo, as the declared regular-season champion, automatically qualifies for the National Invitational Tournament.