Ben Vander Plas walks back to the Bobcats bench during the second half of the Bobcats 66-57 win over Miami on March 8, 2019. PHOTO: Taylor Jedrzejek/WOUB

Ohio Men’s Basketball: Bobcats Fall in 1st Round of MAC Tourney, Face Big Offseason

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DEKALB, IL — The unofficial motto of March in college basketball is “survive and advance”.

Ohio came into the first round of the Mid-American Conference Tournament playing their best basketball of the season, but Northern Illinois threw a game at them that they could not survive.

So, the Bobcats did not advance.

The Huskies (16-16) made nine of their first 11 three-point attempts en route to their third victory over Ohio this season, defeating the Bobcats 80-61 in the NIU Convocation Center and ending their season.

Before Monday night, since the MAC went to its current tournament format back in 2000, Ohio had never lost in the first round in back-to-back years.

The barrage from beyond the arch started within the first few seconds of the game when the Huskies’ Rod Henry-Hayes scored the game’s first points from beyond the arch, but Northern Illinois really heated up near the midway point of the first half.

The Huskies’ Eugene German knocked down his first triple of the game with 12:21 to play in the first to put Northern Illinois up 15-11 and that kicked off a hot streak that lasted the remainder of the half. The Huskies shot 13-of-17 over the final 12-plus minutes to extend their lead from a single point to 18 points at the half. That stretch also included six straight makes from beyond the arc.

The Bobcats simply could not keep up, making just one of their six attempts from long range in the first 20 minutes, and trailed 44-28 at the half.

Despite performing better on the offensive end in the second half, Ohio still struggled to get any defensive stops. On two separate occasions in the second half, the Bobcats were able to breathe life back into the game.

With just over 16 minutes to play, they used a 7-0 run to cut the Husky down to 14. The Bobcats then failed to score for the next five and a half minutes and saw their deficit balloon back to 22, the biggest it would be in the game.

Then with just under four minutes to play, the Bobcats were once again threatening a comeback. After hitting a three to cut the Northern Illinois lead to 12, Jason Carter forced German to miss a dunk on the other end, but the rebound went to another Husky player for the easy putback. 12 would be as close as Ohio would get in the second half.

Senior Doug Taylor did all he could to not let Monday night be his final game in green and white. He was a menace all night to the Huskies, finishing with 20 points and 11 rebounds. 20 points ties a career-high Taylor set just last week against Buffalo.

Teyvion Kirk and Jason Carter also added 14 points.

The loss ends the Bobcats’ season with a record of 14-17, just their sixth sub-.500 season in the last 20 years. This also marks the first time Ohio has finished with more wins than losses in consecutive years since the ‘02-’03 and ‘03-’04 campaigns.

With Ohio finishing with disappointing records in each of the last two seasons, it is fair to wonder if Monday night could be the last time Saul Phillips coaches the Bobcats. His contract was due to end at the end of this season and no announcement has been made on his future at this time.

Whether they have a new coach on the sidelines or not next season, the Bobcats should be set up for a successful season.

Third team All-MAC forward Jason Carter, who led Ohio in points per game this season, will return along with a long list of key players, including Teyvion Kirk, Antonio Cowart, Jr. and the pair of All-MAC freshman team players Jason Preston and Ben Vander Plas.

The Bobcats will also get Jordan Dartis back after the high-scoring guard missed the entire season with a hip injury.

The future is certainly bright for the Bobcats, but who will be leading them is the question.