Toughness was the issue for Ohio in Wednesday night's loss; defense was the Bobcats' latest flaw in Saturday's 68-55 loss at Eastern Michigan.
The Eagles (11-14, 6-5 MAC ) torched the nets against Ohio's (19-6, 7-4) defense. EMU shot 50 percent (18-36) from the field, nearly 67 percent from behind the arc (8-12), and although the Eagles missed nine free throws (24-33), they still bested the Bobcats who shot just 61 percent (19-31) from the foul line.
It's tough to win a game when if you lose to the opponent in every shooting category. Ohio struggled against the Eagles' 2-3 zone, which forced a lot of outside shots from the 'Cats. Ohio shot 31 percent (15-48) and 23 percent from deep (6-26). Last year this team could have possibly overcome poor defense, but this year's team needs to defend.
"Our team can't afford to come out and give up 50 percent from the field and 67 percent from three… Groce explained. "We're not the same team as last year necessarily or the year before that where we can score 80, 90 points and outscore you… We could do that a few times in the past, but this team has made its calling on defense, there's no reason why we should give up 50 percent and 67 percent in the game today."
Despite the Eagles' sky-high shooting percentage, Ohio had its chances to get back in this game. Walter Offutt connected on three pointer with 3:39 left in the game to bring Ohio within five points, but Eastern's Darrell Lampley nailed a shot from downtown to push the Eagles' lead back to eight.
D.J. Cooper answered right back with a three of his own to bring the score back to 56-51, but that is as close as Ohio would get before eventually falling by 13 points.
Lampley's late three pointer was his lone deep field goal, but it was almost identical to the other seven threes Eastern Michigan hit all day: late in the shot clock and not hotly contested.
"We gave up threes on simple actions that we've defended all year." Groce said. "When they ran it down to 15 seconds, I don't know if it lulled our guys to sleep… We lost shooters, we tried to switch, we don't switch, that resulted in probably three or four of the eight threes they made."
Derek Thompson led all scorers with 23 points with most of his damage coming from behind-the-arc. Thompson was 3 of 4 from deep, 6 of 9 shooting overall. Antonio Green and Jamell Harris rounded out double-figure scorers for Eastern Michigan.
Reggie Keely was the lone bright spot for the Bobcats on Saturday. The junior forward had 14 points on 4 of 6 shooting and was 6 for 10 from the free throw line. Keely also hauled in 11 rebounds to complete a double-double in his first start of the season.
"He's really matured a lot, hopefully we can get him to play consistently like he has been… He's acting like a senior right now, which I like." Groce said about his forward. "I was in that locker room, ain't nobody more upset than him."
Cooper led Ohio with 15 points, but was 3 of 12 from the floor. Walter Offutt was the last Bobcats' player over 10 points with 11.
Ohio falls to 1-4 on the road in MAC play, and after Saturday's loss and Bowling Green's 66-63 win over Toledo, the Bobcats and Falcons are now tied for fourth in the conference at 7-4.
Ohio and Bowling Green play Wednesday night at 7 pm in Athens. Remember to check out woub.org/sports for a live, postgame production complete with highlights, analysis, post game press conferences, and more shortly after the end of the game.
1) 68 points for Eastern Michigan is the most points scored by the Eagles in MAC play this season, and the second-most points they have scored all season (70 points in a loss on Dec. 1 at Colgate).
2) Saturday's game was the first time the starting lineup changed all season. Keely replaced Jon Smith, and T.J. Hall replaced Ivo Baltic, who is battling a right knee injury. Baltic banged his knee in practice on Thursday, but after the game Groce said he also thought Ivo had too many "soft" plays while he was in. His four minutes of playing time is the fewest minutes he's played all season.
3) Ohio's first points and field goal did not come until 9:50 were left in the first half, when Walter Offutt scored on a baseline drive and spin.
4) The MAC East was 28-6 (before Western Michigan at Buffalo and Northern Illinois at Akron) against the West division in the crossover games.