ADA — It comes down to one game for the Ohio Athletic Conference title.
If Ohio Northern wins Saturday at Marietta, it wins the OAC men’s basketball crown.
ONU put itself in that situation with a 98-55 rout of Otterbein on Wednesday night at the King Horn Center.
Through Wednesday night, ONU (14-3) is tied for second place in the OAC with John Carroll (14-3 OAC), one game behind first-place Marietta (15-2 OAC).
The Polar Bears (16-8) conclude the OAC regular season at Marietta on Saturday, and with a win over Marietta, they would own all the tie-breakers for the title against Marietta and John Carroll.
“We win it, we win the league,” ONU coach Rich Bensman said. “We win the league because we would be 3-1 (against John Carroll and Marietta) and the other two would be 2-2. It’ll be tough, but championships are tough.”
ONU has won 11 of its last 12 games.
Added ONU’s Konnor Baker, “It’s for the OAC, we all know that and we’ll be ready to play.”
The Polar Bears continually broke down the Otterbein 2-3 zone by making the extra pass and finding Aron Thress and Ryan Bruns down low. That opened up the 3-point shooters and helped ONU put five players in double figures.
The 6-7 Thress, who got the start on senior night, led the way with 22 points, hitting 11 of 13 from the field. He also had seven rebounds.
Konnor Baker (Ada) had 20 points, nine rebounds and four 4-pointers.
Devon Allen (Lima Senior) added 16 points and four 3-pointers.
Bruns (Marion Local) had 10 points, nine rebounds and three blocks. Nate Burger came off the bench for 16 points.
ONU point guard Joey Hurless (Van Wert) didn’t score, but had 12 assists and held Otterbein’s leading scorer Bryan Mackenzie (15-point average) to nine points.
Otterbein (7-17, 3-14 OAC) defeated ONU 60-50 in their first meeting back on Jan. 4 at Otterbein.
This time ONU did a much better job against the Otterbein zone.
“We wanted to attack the gaps (in the zone),” Bensman said. “The first time we played them Bruns had a concussion and we had to move pieces around. … But after that game we had a two-hour meeting because I don’t think we approached that game the way we needed to approach that game.”
The senior Thress got the start over Bruns and started with 10 quick points in the first seven minutes.
“It was senior night (for Thress to start) and he did a great job,” Bensman said. “Our philosophy on that is you can’t start them (the seniors) all. But if (the start) is in the course of our normal rotation, that’s not a problem.”
With the game tied at 18, ONU ripped off a 15-0 run to pull out to a 33-18 lead with 7:22 left in the first half.
“The first time we played them we did a terrible job attacking the gaps,” Allen said. “That was our main focus coming in today. We did a great job of going inside-out. … That opens up three-point shots for everybody.”
Added Baker, “We didn’t attack the zone very well the first time we played them. The middle was wide open and we decided just to chuck threes and that’s why we lost. I think we attacked the zone much better today.”
With Bruns coming in for Thress, the 6-8 Bruns hit two 5-footers to start the 15-0 run. Allen then hit back-to-back 3-pointers.
Late in the first half, Burger sank two 3-pointers and the ONU lead grew to 45-23.
ONU led 45-29 at the half, then started the second half with a 15-2 run.
The Polar Bears pulled out to a 60-31 lead with 15 minutes to go, but Otterbein was done for the night.
ONU used its size advantage and strength to easily dominate the boards, 50-31.
ONU shot 55 percent from the field and was 14 of 32 on 3-pointers.
Otterbein shot 27 percent from the field and was 7 of 39 on 3-pointers.
Now the Polar Bears have one game left for the title and home court throughout the OAC tournament.
“We have one game to win the league and have home-court advantage throughout the tournament,” Allen said. “You have to be amped up and ready to go and everybody is. If you would have told me last year, ‘Next year you have one game to win the league,’ I think everybody takes it.”