Head coach Saul Phillips holds his breath in the huddle as he prepares to give a speech during the second half of the game. (Daniel Linhart/WOUB)

Ohio Men’s Basketball: Bobcats fall to NIU in Overtime

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Ben Vander Plas gave Ohio a new lease on life in the waning seconds of the game.  

The freshman knocked down a three in the corner with eight seconds to play to tie the game at 60. Adding to that, Vander Plas was fouled and would go to the line with a chance to give the Bobcats a lead.

However, as had been the trend for the Bobcats in the seconds half, Vander Plas missed the free throw and the game went to overtime.

In overtime, the Convo magic ran out and the ‘Cats (8-5, 0-1 MAC) fell to the Huskies (8-6, 1-0 MAC) 72-66 for the first time in Athens in nearly four years.

“Something was off,” Vander Plas said. “I have to knock that down next time.”

For the game, Ohio shot just 11-of-25 from the free throw line, including a 0-for-5 showing from the line in overtime.

“We just have to shoot more (free throws),” Ohio head coach Saul Phillips said. “We spent this week shooting a lot of (free throws)…if you had asked me what would come back and bite us, I don’t think that would have been in the top five. You gotta learn to step up and make them when the game is on the line and we didn’t do that.”

Early on in the game, there couldn’t have been many in attendance that would think that Saturday’s game would come down to the ability to make free throws.

Ohio came out of the locker room and jumped all over the Huskies early, particularly on the defensive end.

The Bobcats held a 24-10 lead with just under six minutes remaining in the first half, but were unable to blow the game open before halftime and held a 34-21 lead going into the locker room.

In two of their previous three games, the closing games has been an issue for the ‘Cats.

Three weeks ago, they let a 19-point lead slip away against Detroit Mercy before winning by two.

Last Saturday, the Bobcats built a 12-point lead early in the second half against FIU only to see it dwindle away before Jason Carter banked home a putback layup to win the game in the closing seconds.

Against the Huskies, Ohio watched their 13-point halftime lead vanish in the first 7:20 seconds of the half. During that time, the Bobcats were outscored 17-3 and NIU had taken a 38-37 lead.

“We just come out flat to start the second half,” Bobcat guard Antonio Cowart Jr. said. “We’ve been trying to work on coming out and punching them in the mouth like we do to start the game, but we have to be better coming out to start the second half.”

“We get too comfortable with our lead,” Vander Plas added. “We start playing more conservative. What helps us in the first half is our aggressiveness, I think some of that goes away in the second half when we have a lead. That’s something we need to get rid of.”

Jason Carter being in foul trouble for most of that second half slide certainly didn’t help matters. The Bobcats’ leading scorer picked up his third foul just two minutes into the second half and his fourth foul with a little over 12 minutes to play in the game. He finished with just 9 points and 7 rebounds.

“He was in foul trouble so early that he never got any flow,” Phillips said. “We had play calls for him that we never go to because he wasn’t out there.”

Teyvion Kirk did his best to alleviate the scoring by tossing in 22 points and grabbing 9 rebounds. Kirk’s 10-of-16 shooting performance was his most efficient offensive game of the season, but he too was plagued by free throws, finishing just 1-of-6 from the line.

Cowart scored a season-high 14 points, making a trio of threes in the first half to help build Ohio’s early lead.

Up next for the ‘Cats is a trip to Bowling Green to face the Falcons on January 8.