ATHENS, Ohio -- Ohio put on a shooting clinic in the early part of Monday’s Mid-American Conference Tournament first round game and rode its hot start to a 76-64 win over Ball State.
The Bobcats stormed out of the gate to build a 20-point lead in fewer than eight minutes. Ball State took Ohio’s best punch and rallied to get back in the game by halftime. The Cardinals cut the deficit to 10 multiple times but could never get within striking distance.
“I told our players in the locker room I was really proud of them,” Ball State head coach James Whitford said. “We really fought. I’ve been coaching a long time and I haven’t seen many games start like that.”
Freshman point guard Zavier Turner finished one shy of a career-high with seven assists and led four Ball State players in double figures with 14 points. Majok Majok scored 13, while Franko House added 12 and Jesse Berry 10 for the Cardinals (5-25).
Nick Kellogg led all players with 17 points to help fifth-seeded Ohio (22-10) move on to the tournament’s second round Wednesday. The Bobcats will meet No. 8 seed Miami University, which won Monday over Kent State. All four home teams advanced on the tournament’s opening night.
Ohio blistered the nets early, knocking down nine of its first 10 shots from the floor and seven of its first 10 from 3-point range. They had their largest lead at 36-14 with 8:25 left in the first half after a 3-pointer from Javarez Willis.
Ball State had to play a 7-minute stretch during Ohio’s early barrage without leading scorer and top defender Chris Bond. The senior forward suffered a gash on his forehead in a scrum for a loose ball when he collided with teammate Tyler Koch. Koch also left the game bloodied but returned quickly.
“I couldn’t believe Chris came back,” Whitford said. “There was so much blood on the floor I thought he popped an artery. It was incredible. In my mind I was thinking we were going to have to go on without him.”
But Bond returned patched up and the Cardinals weathered the storm as Ohio began to cool off. The Willis 3-pointer was the Bobcats’ last field goal before halftime and Ball State rallied to close the gap to 38-26 at the break.
House played a big role for the Cardinals, taking the ball aggressively to the basket for the second game in a row. Coming off a career-high 19 points in the final regular season game at Northern Illinois, the freshman forward continued to attack. He and Majok combined to shoot 11 for 15 when the Cardinals were able to get the ball inside.
Majok went to the bench early in the second half after picking up his fourth foul and played only 10 minutes after the break. Bo Calhoun filled his spot and was active on the glass with a career-high nine rebounds in 13 minutes. He helped the Cardinals to a 22-14 advantage on the boards in the second half.
Ball State just was not able to get enough shots to fall, making 4 of 21 attempts from 3-point range and connecting on 43.6 percent from the floor for the game. Ohio, after its hot start, finished the night 9 for 23 from beyond the arc. The Bobcats shot 52 percent for the night.
“We had some good looks,” Whitford said. “For us to win at Ohio, a very good team, on the road, we would have needed a good shooting night to do it. That’s the part you can’t always control. The parts we could control, I thought we did a terrific job.”
It was a 10-point game with fewer than five minutes to play before Ohio scored seven straight to push its lead to 69-52 with 3:23 left. The Cardinals made one last push but again could not get closer than 10.
Monday marked the final game in the careers of Ball State seniors Berry, Bond, Koch, Majok and Kindon Crowder, all of whom are on pace to graduate in May.
Majok, the MAC’s leading rebounder, grabbed five boards and ended the season averaging 11.1 points and 10.0 rebounds per game. He became the first Ball State player to average a double-double in a season since Theron Smith in 2001-02.“I’m proud of our seniors,” Whitford said. “It hurts for our guys right now, and it should hurt. That’s okay. There’s no shame in anything, for our season, for our team. Our guys competed hard.”