Dartis Bobcats Basketball
PHOTO: Ben Weilgopolski/WOUB

Ohio Men’s Basketball: ‘Cats Fall in Shootout to Akron

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ATHENS, OH — When a young team develops, there are often, years down the road, that people can look back on and say ‘That is when they figured it out’. Whether or not this group of Bobcats is the group that vaults them back into being MAC title contenders is yet to be seen, but if they do, Saturday afternoon’s game against conference-leading Akron could be the moment that people point to as the moment they grew up.

Down 16 points at halftime, the ‘Cats (10-10, 2-5 MAC) nearly completed an improbable comeback before ultimately falling to Akron (16-4, 6-1 MAC), 88-86 on a wild day in the Convo.

“At halftime, I thought our guys could have folded but they didn’t like they haven’t all year. They’re great kids and they responded the way I thought they would,” Ohio head coach Jeff Boals said. “I told them after the game…the energy level is what we need to do for 40 minutes.”

After falling down 48-32 at the half, the Bobcats came out and had their best offensive half of the season, scoring 54 points on 21-of-34 shooting (61.8 percent). They also did their damage at all levels, making 14-of-23 from inside the arc and 7-of-11 outside it. Three Bobcats (Jason Preston, Ben Vander Plas, and Jordan Dartis) scored double figures in just the second half.

“Yeah, it’s definitely a positive seeing guys just go out there and fight like that, coming out of halftime down 16,” Vander Plas said. “Obviously not the outcome we want but something that we just got to build off of we gotta get back tomorrow and just keep pushing.”

However, even with the Bobcats putting on a show in the second half, they were never able to draw closer than two points, which they three times in the final 10:17 of the game. They were never able to get over that hump.

“We were just one play away…what started killing us is that we were trading baskets back and forth,” Dartis said. “They’re definitely an offensively powerful team, so we really can’t do that.”

Even with Ohio shooting 61.8 percent, Akron managed to shoot better. The Zips shot a blistering 62.5 percent in the second half, led by junior phenom Loren Cristian Jackson. 

The 5-foot-8 point guard came into the game shooting 60.7 percent from the field over his previous three games shot even better than that against the Bobcats. He made 13-of-17 (76.4 percent) shots, 7-of-9 from three on his way to a career-high 35 points.

“He’s quick. He can shoot it, he can dribble it, he can pass it. That’s a tough combination,” Boals said. “We changed our ball screen coverage late where we were trapping them off of it and he’s so quick sometimes he can still get around it.”

But even with Jackson going off for Akron, the Bobcats had a chance until the very end, which didn’t look like it would be possible with as little as eight minutes remaining, but Ohio kept battling.

“It comes down to that fine line of when maybe talent-wise or coaching or whatever it may be, those little things matter. Whether you have a hand down three-point shooter, and they hit a three, whether you don’t sprint back on defense and leave a guy wide open, whether you don’t block out those types of things matter,” Boals said. “Those are the things that we got to continue to understand individually as a team.” 

“Having personal pride and understanding. Those are game-winning plays,” Boals added. “I think getting there and we’re doing it but just not consistent enough to win.”

With the offensive explosion in the second half, the Bobcats had four players finish in double figures in the game. Dartis led the team with 21 points on a very efficient night from the field that saw the senior shoot 9-of-15, including going 6-of-7 inside the arc.

Vander Plas fought through foul trouble in the first half to finish with 18 points and three rebounds. He sat the final 11:34 of the first half, a span that both saw the ‘Cats cut the Zip lead to two and balloon back out to 16.

Preston filled the stat sheet, finishing with 15 points, nine assists, and four rebounds. A vast majority of his damage was done in the final 20 minutes after dealing with double teams and traps for a bulk of the first half.

Lunden McDay scrapped his way to 11 points and five boards. Three of those rebounds came on the offensive end, all three of which led to Bobcat points. He also dove on a loose ball and called timeout to set up an Ohio possession that cut the Akron lead to two with 28 seconds to play.

All of this came against the team that has more-or-less dominated every MAC team they’ve beaten. In conference play, the Zips came into the Saturday’s game winning by an average of 14.7 points. But a loss is still a loss for Ohio.

“Every game, we can build off of, win or loss. We just gotta keep moving forward,” Dartis said. “We still got 11 games left in conference and we’re on to the biggest games of the year. I think we’ll be ready by that time.”

The Bobcats schedule doesn’t get any easier next week, however. They will travel to Dekalb, Illinois on Tuesday to take on the MAC’s leading scorer Eugene German and the Northern Illinois Huskies.

Last season, the Huskies swept the Bobcats, but as has been seen so far through 20 games, this is a very different Ohio team.

That game is set to tip-off on the black floor of NIU’s Convocation Center at 8 p.m.