The Ohio Bobcats walk back to the bench during the second half of a loss to Eastern Michigan on February 12, 2019. Photo: Nick Mullens/WOUB

Ohio Men’s Basketball: ‘Cats Drop Fourth Straight To EMU

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For the first time in two weeks, things for Ohio were going well to start.

After finding themselves down by at least 10 points in the early going of their last two games, the Bobcats needed to get off to a good start to spur some confidence.

They did just that, outscoring Eastern Michigan 12-0 in the first 5:56 of the game.

Then it unraveled.

The Eagles (12-13, 5-6 MAC) closed the half on a 31-12 run and cruised in the second half to a 66-57 victory over the Bobcats (11-12, 3-8 MAC) on Tuesday night in the Convo, handing the ‘Cats their fourth straight loss.

“We are certainly in a tough spot right now mentally,” Bobcats head coach Saul Phillips said. “It’s our job to keep working on those things on a daily basis that are stopping us from having success.”

For the third straight game, the Bobcats trailed by at least 20 points in the second half. Eastern Michigan used a 30-10 run between the 3:10 mark of the first half and the 10:01 mark of the second half to turn a 24-22 game in the Bobcats favor to a 52-34 game in the Eagles favor.

During that span, Ohio shot just 4-of-18 from the field and just 2-of-9 from long range. Throughout the night, the Bobcats were often looking to pass rather than taking open shots.

“A lot of that has to do with confidence,” Bobcat senior forward Gavin Block said. “In the first five possessions of the game, we were passing very well and taking the right shots. Later in the game that just didn’t happen. The momentum change really affected everyone’s confidence. We felt the tension and everyone tightened up a little bit. We just have to get over that hump.”

The Bobcats also lost four games a row in MAC play last season. They responded by winning 5 of their last 8 regular season games.

“We just gotta keep going, we have to stay positive,” Block said. “The only thing that we can control now is what’s ahead in the rest of conference play.”

The schedule won’t get any easier the rest of the way for Ohio. Four of their last seven games are on the road, including trips to Central Michigan and Akron. The Bobcats also still have yet to play No. 25 Buffalo this season and play them twice in the next 21 days.

The offensive struggles the Bobcats have been faced with have only become more pronounced since beginning MAC play on January 5. They have failed to reach the 60 point mark in four of their eight conference losses, including each of their last three games.

“We watched clips from (earlier in the season) when it was it was going really, really well,” Phillips said. “What have we strayed from? Why have we strayed from it? You just don’t stop looking for answers. I don’t know any other way than to keep battling to get this group to where we need to get to.”

The answers don’t seem to be coming by way of the three point line. In their last four games, the ‘Cats have made just 23 of their 94 three point shots. That is good for just 24 percent, which is six percentage points below their season average of 30.

Before making three of their final five attempts from long range in an attempt to make a late comeback, the Bobcats were just 4-of-23, or 17 percent.

Ohio is currently missing their two best three point shooters in Jordan Dartis, who has missed the whole season following surgery over the summer, and James Gollon, who tore his Achilles on January 22.

“If a big narrative of the season is that you’re not shooting it well from deep, one of them would be what we don’t have,” Phillips said. “The solution that we have to find definitely involves not having those two.”

With the MAC Tournament in just 27 days, the focus for the Bobcats is on trying to fix their problems in time for their first tournament game on March 11.

“It’s definitely crossed my mind that winning is more fun than losing,” Block said. “I’m definitely not pushing these games away. I only got, like, seven left now for sure.”

“It’s a fine line you have to ride as a head coach. They don’t want to be told ‘great job ending the game, that was a lot of fight at the end’ they want to be told how to not be in a position like that,” Phillips said. “If there was a snap-your-fingers solution, I would have pulled it by now.”

The ‘Cats will have a couple days of practice and film study before they travel to Mount Pleasant to take on Central Michigan. The Chippewas are 5-6 in MAC play and coming off a loss to Bowling Green on Tuesday. Tip-off in McGuirk Arena is set for 4:30 p.m. on Saturday.