CLEVELAND, OH -- Ohio's start Friday night at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse may not have been a complete knockout, but the Bobcats certainly jolted Buffalo's Bulls.
Buffalo, which had won three straight MAC tournament titles, spent the night trying to recover from Ohio's blitz. However, the Bobcats eventually walked away with an 84-69 victory to claim the 2021 MAC tournament championship and an automatic bid to this year's NCAA tourney.
"It was an unbelievable performance by our guys," Ohio head coach Jeff Boals said. "I'm a proud coach and I know that we made a lot of people in Bobcat Nation happy. The most proud I am of this group is their character. What they've been able to go through this last month and a half to get to this point."
Junior Jason Preston, who earned tournament MVP honors, led the . . .
It was the Bobcats ninth win over their last 10 games and second victory over Buffalo in three meetings. The Bulls (16-8, 12-5 MAC) were actually the only team to beat Ohio during the 'Cats successful late season stretch that began Jan. 23.
Buffalo dominated Ohio at the Convocation Center, 86-66 back on Feb. 27. Friday's championship meeting, however, was a much different story. Trailing 5-2, the Bobcats ran off 16 straight points. After the 18:00 mark, UB hit just two field goals over nearly 16 minutes. Both of those were provided by Josh MBalla. The 6-7 junior scored 11 of his 16 game points before intermission.
Joining MBalla, who also snagged 11 rebounds, in double figures for the evening were Ronaldo Segu (game-high 24 points) and Jayvon Graves (13 points).
With UB connecting on just 23.1 percent (6-of-26) from the field and the 'Cats sinking 17-of-33 (51.5%) before halftime, Ohio took a commanding 41-21 lead to the locker room.
Segu scored 10 of 16 points during one stretch as the Bulls desperately tried to catch the 'Cats. They did outscore Ohio 48-43 in the final stanza, but the Green & White knocked down 10 of 14 free throws down the stretch to maintain a double-digit lead though the final buzzer.
"Give Ohio credit. They were just sharper than us tonight, "Buffalo head coach Jim Whitesell said. "They made shots when they needed to. I’m really proud of my guys. They played with a lot of heart. We just didn’t play a sharp first half.”
Ohio heads to Indianapolis, Ind. where the 2021 NCAA Tournament will take place. Ohio will find out their opponent on Sunday, March 14 at 6 p.m. on CBS.