The Bobcats have picked an awful time for their first skid of the season.
Dogged by slow starts in both halves, Ohio’s late-game surge came up short as Bowling Green held on an 80-77 win on Tuesday night in the Stroh Center. The loss was the second in a row for the Bobcats – their first consecutive losses of the season – and Ohio had dropped three of the last four overall.
Ohio was eliminated from contention for the Mid-American Conference regular-season championship with the loss. The Bobcats (23-7, 14-5 MAC) currently sit third in the league standings and will need a win Friday in the regular-season finale, or a Buffalo loss, to stay in that position. The 2022 MAC Tournament begins Thursday, March 10 in Cleveland and OU already has a spot in the field.
But that’s irrelevant at the moment. Jeff Boals needs to find a way to get the Bobcats on track. In the last three losses, Ohio has spent most of the time mired with double-digit deficits and looking little like the team that had the MAC lead for most of the previous six weeks.
“We’ve got to get back to setting the tone defensively,” Boals said. “Collectively, we’ve got to figure it out.”
Bowling Green (13-17, 6-13 MAC) snapped a six-game losing skid and avenged a loss earlier this season in Athens. The Falcons remained outside of the top eight that would qualify for the MAC Tournament; Tuesday was Ohio’s first loss against one of the bottom four teams in the league.
The Falcons shot 50 percent from the field for the game, placed four in double figures, and took advantage of 26 free throws in the second half alone. Daeqwon Plowden was a catalyst with 18 points, six rebounds and five blocked shots, while center Matiss Kulackovskis had a season-high 18 points. Samari Curtis chipped in 16 and Trey Diggs added 13.
Just like in Friday’s home loss to Akron, Ohio struggled mightily on offense…until the game was nearly out of reach. As it was, OU shot just 34.7 percent overall including 13 of 34 (38.2 percent) from 2-point range.
“We let their defense affect us too much. You have to go strong at the rim,” Boals said. “You’ve got to make those.”
Ben Vander Plas was stellar, with a game-high 25 points and eight rebounds. Mark Sears had an impressive double-double with 22 points, 13 rebounds and five assists. Ben Roderick caught fire late and finished with 14 points.
But several Ohio regulars struggled. Tommy Schmock had his worst shooting game of the season by going 1-for-10. Jason Carter hit on just 3 of 9, and Miles Brown was just 2 for 6.
Bowling Green started quickly, and shredded OU for 13 points on the game’s first five possessions. Ohio trailed 13-3 before it was three minutes old.
But behind a brilliant half from Vander Plas (17 points), Ohio grinded its way to a 35-31 by intermission. However, the Falcons repeated that surge early in the second half with an 11-0 burst as part of a 20-7 run that flipped the game back their way.
“The first 2-3-4 minutes of the first half and the first five minutes of the second half, that was the ballgame,” Boals said. “You know, if we would have won, probably wouldn’t have deserved to win the game.”
Bowling Green led 63-50 with 6:50 remaining, but Ohio landed a 12-0 run keyed by consecutive Roderick 3-pointers to close to within 63-62 with four minutes to go. But the Bobcats were derailed less than a minute later.
A driving Carter was bumped by a BG defender and whistled for a travel. The forward argued with the official and drew a technical foul, then said something else to the official as he walked away. Carter was tagged with another technical. Plowden hit three free throws and Kulackovskis scored on a layup on the ensuing possession for a five-point swing.
Boals said he thought Carter was clearly fouled.
“He feels bad about it and he apologized,” Boals said. “We just got to be better”
Bowling Green 76-67 with 39.4 seconds left, but Ohio made another run at the lead. 3-pointers from Sears and Brown pulled Ohio to within 77-75 with 14.6 seconds left. Ohio had a shot to tie it, down 78-75, but Sears’ 3-pointer was off the mark with less than five seconds left.
Toledo (16-3 MAC) can clinch the regular-season championship on Friday with a win against visiting Bowling Green, or a loss by Kent State (15-4). The Golden Flashes won their 11th game in a row on Tuesday, 63-55 at NIU, and can finish no worse than second (the No. 2 seed).
Ohio can finish no higher than third, and would fall to fourth with a loss and a Buffalo win. The Bulls (13-5 MAC) play at Kent State on Friday night. Akron, with a win and an Ohio loss, could tie the Bobcats for fourth-place but the Bobcats hold the tie-breaker; both teams were winless against Toledo this season but OU was 1-1 against KSU while Akron was 0-2.
Ohio, 8-5 on the road, travels to NIU (8-21, 5-14 MAC) for an 8 p.m. ET start on Friday night in the finale. The Bobcats won the first meeting this season, but OU isn’t playing much like the team it was then. The Huskies have been eliminated from qualifying for the MAC Tournament.
“We can go in there and lose if we continue to play like we have,” Boals said. “We’ve got to respond.”