The #5 Ohio Bobcats used a dominating first half performance against the Buffalo Bulls to cruise to a 84-69 victory in the 2021 Mid-American Conference Championship game at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland, Ohio, on Saturday night.
The Bobcats came out strong in the opening half and literally ran away with this one. They held a double digit lead for most of the half and benefitted from the Bulls doing a terrible job taking care of the ball. At the 12 minute mark of the first half, the Bulls had more turnovers (7) than points (5). And, at the four minute mark, the Bulls still had only made three field goal attempts. A Jason Preston three at the buzzer gave the Bobcats its biggest lead of the game at 41-21. Preston finished with 17 in that opening stanza.
In the second half, the Bulls mounted the to-be-expected run and cut the lead to ten (52-42) with 10 minutes to play. However, a Ben Vander Plas three ball pushed the Bobcat lead back to 61-42 with 7:55 to play. The Bulls never really mounted a challenge the rest of the way, as the Bobcats hit their free throws down the stretch. The first half lead was just too much for Buffalo to overcome.
As usual, Preston was the main man for the Bobcats. He filled up the stat sheet with 22 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists, and 5 steals. He was named the Tournament’s Most Valuable Player. Ben Roderick added 20 and Dwight Wilson with 17 for Ohio. Ronaldo Segu led Buffalo in scoring with 24 points, while Josh Mballa chipped in with 16 points and 11 rebounds.
The Bobcats defeated all higher seeds, Kent State (4), Toledo (1) and Buffalo (2), en route to the title. The victory also served as the end of a redemption story of sorts; the Bobcats had 11 regular season games either postponed or cancelled due to COVID, and were also affected by an injury bug midway through the season to several key players. With the win, Ohio earns the MAC’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. This is Ohio’s seventh MAC Tournament Championship, and it will be their first NCAA appearance since 2012, when they advanced to the Sweet 16 round.
The Bobcats improve to 16-7 on the season and will await Sunday’s NCAA bracket reveal. Buffalo drops to 16-8 and will await to see if it will play in the postseason.