CLEVELAND (AP) — Jason Preston scored 27 points and Ben Vander Plas added 26 as Ohio stunned top-seeded Toledo 87-80 on Friday night in the semifinals of the Mid-American Conference Tournament.
The fifth-seeded Bobcats (15-7) controlled the game from the opening tip. They made seven 3-pointers and built a 15-point lead in the first half before turning back Toledo’s comeback attempt — led by conference player of the year Marreon Jackson.
Ohio, which had its final two regular-season games cancelled due to COVID-19 issues, will play the winner of the second semifinal between Akron and Buffalo in Saturday’s title game for the league’s automatic NCAA berth.
The Bobcats haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2012, when they made it to the Sweet 16.
Jackson, who finished with 29 points, helped the Rockets (21-8) trim a 16-point deficit to 81-74 with 1:25 left by making a layup as he fell to the floor. But Vander Plas calmly drained a 3-pointer from the left wing and Ohio held on.
Setric Millner added 26 points for Toledo.
The Rockets, who squeaked out an overtime win against Ball State in the quarterfinals, easily beat Ohio 95-78 on Jan. 8. But Preston missed that game with an injury, and Toledo had no answer in this one for the smooth junior guard from Florida.
Preston and Vander Plas each dropped 3-pointers late in the first half as the Bobcats built a 43-31 lead at the break.
It’s another tough tournament for the Rockets, who have had big seasons end in Cleveland before. Toledo last made the NCAA Tournament in 1980.
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