ATHENS, Ohio - For the second-straight season, the Ohio Women's Basketball team will head to Cleveland for the second round of the Mid-American Conference tournament after a commanding 58-40 win over Kent State Saturday at the Convocation Center. The win marks Ohio's 16th MAC Tournament win in program history and gives the Bobcats 14 wins for the first time since the 2007-08 season.
Three Bobcats finished in double figures on the day as senior Tenishia Benson (Akron, Ohio) led the way with 14 points on 7-13 shooting, while Mariah Byard (Mannington, W. Va.) and Ashley Fowler (Cincinnati, Ohio) finished with 12 and 11 points, respectively. Benson added a career-high 14 rebounds to her scoring effort, picking up her third double-double of the season.
Fowler surpassed 500 career points in the victory and now has scored 502 in her impressive career as a Bobcat.
Ohio (14-17) shot 22-64 (34.4 percent) from the field in the contest, with half of these made field goals being three-pointers. Ohio's 11-24 (45.8 percent) three-point performance was a season high. Byard led the way from distance, shooting an impressive 4-9 (44.4 percent) from three-point range.
After a nearly scoreless opening four minutes for Ohio, Tina Fisher (Cottage Grove, Minn.) dished the ball inside to Benson for the Bobcats' first basket of the game. Byard came in with sharp shooting off the bench only minutes later, nailing two three-pointers to put Ohio up 8-3 at the 14:25 mark. Fowler added to the scoring effort with a three of her own and Byard added one more to extend Ohio's lead to 14-3.
Ohio maintained great defensive pressure in the first ten minutes of the game, forcing seven early Kent State turnovers. The `Cats were able to generate this momentum into offensive production as Fowler hit her second three of the game, pushing the lead to 20-5 with 10:36 to play. With under four minutes remaining, Erin Bailes (Huntington, W. Va.) scored her first three of the game to bump Ohio's lead to 22 (27-5).
The Golden Flashes struggled to muster any offensive success late in the first half as the Bobcats forced them into over eight minutes of scoreless action before Leslie Schaefer hit a free throw at the 3:42 mark. Kent State would not make an actual field goal until the 1:13 mark, making it almost an 11-minute stretch since its last basket at 12:03. Ohio prevented Kent State from achieving double digits in the waning minutes of the half as Benson and Fowler connected on late shots to send the `Cats into the locker room leading 34-8 at halftime. The eight points allowed by Ohio marked the fewest points scored by an opponent in a half this season.
Fowler led Ohio in scoring in the first half with 11 points on 4-for-5 shooting (3-for-4 from three-point range), while Byard and Benson followed with nine and eight points, respectively. The Bobcats shot 37.1 percent (13-35) from the field and 53.8 percent (7-13) from three-point range, while the Ohio defense forced the Golden Flashes to commit 16 turnovers that generated eight points. Ohio also led Kent State in bench points 15-0.
Benson opened up the second-half scoring for Ohio with two early jumpers and Alesia Howard (Columbus, Ohio) added her first basket of the game to increase the Bobcats' lead to 42-14 with under 14 minutes remaining. Byard hit her fourth three-pointer of the game at the 12:08 mark, giving Ohio its largest lead of the game at that point at 31 points (45-14). Olivia McCuskey (St. Albans, W. Va.) also saw action off the bench, hitting a three-pointer and becoming the seventh Bobcat to find her way on the score sheet. The sophomore had a very solid day for the `Cats, scoring six points to tie her career high.
The Golden Flashes (6-21) would never pull within striking distance as the `Cats maintained offensive pressure late in the game and limited Kent State to minimal scoring opportunities to seal the win.
Ohio will face Central Michigan in the second round of the MAC Tournament on Wednesday, March 7 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. Tipoff is scheduled for 12 p.m.