Slow First Half Dooms Bobcats Once Again

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The Bobcats have played a dangerous game all season, as they fall behind by double digits and then storm back in the second half to come back and win. However, playing a game of that nature can backfire on a team when it can’t climb over climb over the hump and complete the comeback consistently.

That was the case for Ohio (19-9, 9-6) Wednesday, as the Bobcats could not overcome a 17-point deficit on their way to a 69-64 loss against Buffalo (17-8, 11-4) in a matchup to help decide first place in the MAC East.

With 1:14 left in the game, T.J. Hall collected a miss from Javarez “Bean” Willis and kicked it out to Nick Kellogg who then drained a 3-pointer to cut Buffalo’s lead to 65-64. On the other end, Buffalo found Javon McCrae in the middle of the lane. McCrae, the MAC’s leading scorer and rebounder, went up strong and drew a foul from Hall. The senior forward knocked down both free throws, giving the Bulls a 67-64 lead.

Following a missed jump shot from Willis and a missed layup from Jared Oldham, Ohio had a chance to tie the game with 0:17 to go. In what was a frenzied position, the ball found Kellogg who Buffalo trapped in the corner. With time quickly running out, Kellogg, who had a team-high 18 points Wednesday, dished it to T.J. Hall. Hall fired up the potential game-tying 3-pointer, but it missed everything. Jon Smith tried to save the ball but was unable to.

“You can’t go down 15 points at halftime against good teams and continue to fight back and win games,” head coach Jim Christian said.

A lackluster first half was the undoing for the Bobcats, as they could not completely crawl out of the hole they dug themselves in the first 20 minutes. Buffalo was simply the more active team in the first half, forcing eight turnovers and grabbing nine offensive rebounds. The Bulls had 16 points off Ohio’s eight turnovers in the first half of the game.

The Bobcats were careless with the ball against a Buffalo team that has extremely active hands. The Bulls deflected numerous passes and hounded Willis for the entire first half. Buffalo’s pressure rushed the junior point guard, which in turn, prevented Ohio from getting into any sort of offensive rhythm in the first half. Willis, along with Kellogg, had four turnovers on the night.

“Open court plays at key times were a big problem for us tonight,” Christian explained.

McCrae finished with 15 points and seven rebounds against the Bobcats. Joshua Freelove pitched in 14 points as well, but it was McCrae that made the larger impact on the game. Going down the stretch, every time the Bobcats made a big play and cut into the Bulls lead, McCrae responded with a basket or an offensive rebound.

“In my opinion the best player on the court won the game,” Christian said. “He made every big play.”

It looked as though Buffalo was going to run away with the game when it built a 17-point lead in the second half. Treg Setty checked into the game and scored four straight points for Ohio and dove on the dove on the floor, fighting for the ball on the defensive. When Setty stood up, he gave a stern look to the student section and encouraged it to get loud. Setty’s intensity ignited a spark for the Bobcats, and they rattled off 8 straight points and drew to within five points with 13:05 left in the game.

Following Ohio’s latest trend, the Bobcats dropped a game after a big win. Dating back to the overtime win against Toledo, the Bobcats have alternated wins and losses.

Part of this can be blamed on the difficult schedule since then, as Ohio faced off against Toledo and Akron once and Western Michigan and Buffalo twice in that span. Part of it though, is also due to the inconsistency that Ohio has played with all season.

“If you’re one of those of those four seeds, which is what everybody’s striving to get, you’ve got to show play well three straight nights, and we haven’t done that yet,” Christian said.

Ohio still holds the fourth seed in the MAC tournament because Akron fell to Miami Wednesday. The Bobcats return to the Convo on Saturday for a matchup with the Kent State Golden Flashes.