Updated Mon, Jan 27, 2014 11:22 am
It doesn’t matter how long you lead the game, just as long as you lead when time expires.
This is exactly the mentality that Ohio adopted in its 58-56 victory over the Eastern Michigan Eagles (11-8, 3-3) in Ypsilanti Saturday.
The Bobcats trailed the whole way until Javarez “Bean” Willis drained an open 3-pointer to give Ohio its first lead at 58-56 with only 0:26 left in the game. Willis finished the game with 12 points on 4-for-8 shooting from 3-point range.
The most impressive part of the Bobcats’ performance was their resiliency when they trailed by double digits at times in the second half.
“You got to keep competing, that was the message at halftime,” head coach Jim Christian said. “Just keep competing and we’ll make our plays.”
It was not an easy climb to get to that point for Ohio, though, as the Bobcats only shot 33 percent (20-for-60) from the field in the game. Unlike the Bobcats’ last game against Bowling Green, Ohio actually handled the Eagles’ 2-3 zone fairly well.
“I don’t think we had problems with the zone,” Willis explained. “We got the ball everywhere we wanted to get it.”
The Bobcats moved without the ball and moved the ball, keeping the Eagles moving and creating open shots. They just did not make the open shots when they had them.
With about four minutes left in the game and Ohio trailing 55-46, Jon Smith nailed an open foul line jumper to give Ohio a little momentum. Then several possessions later, Smith made another jump shot from the free throw line to cut Eastern Michigan’s lead to 55-50 and to give Ohio some more momentum.
On Eastern Michigan’s ensuing possession, Travis Wilkins wrestled the ball away from Glenn Bryant and found Nick Kellogg for a corner 3-pointer. With Kellogg’s 3-pointer, the momentum had clearly swung completely in Ohio’s favor.
Wilkins’ play down the stretch was key for Ohio. He crashed the boards, grabbing multiple boards and diving on the floor for loose balls.
Then the ‘Cats finally tied the game at 55-55 on a Maurice Ndour jump shot with 1:36 to go in the game. Ndour only had 7 points on the afternoon, but he cleaned the glass, finishing with 14 rebounds.
Jalen Ross missed a 3-pointer on the other end, setting up Willis’ game winning shot.
Stevie Taylor gave the team a serious lift in the first half with 9 points, all coming on 3-pointers. Taylor, who finished the game with a team-high 14 points, had to sit out much of the half with foul trouble. He eventually fouled out of the game in the second half, forcing Willis to lead the team down the stretch.
“We only have two point guards,” Willis said. “Somebody had to step up, so I knew that had to be me.”
At this point in the season, it’s clear that nothing will come easy for Ohio, but that’s not a problem for the Bobcats. Ohio has shown time and time again that it has no problem with a close game.
“It’s not gonna be pretty,” Christian said. “In conference play, you give yourself a chance to win and you take advantage of it, and that’s what we did.”
Ohio will take on Central Michigan (7-10, 0-5) at home on Wednesday.