Ohio has so dominated UB these last few seasons that Saturday it was as if the Bobcats cut the Bulls a break and played with one hand tied behind their backs. They were minus starting point guard Stevie Taylor, sidelined with a calf injury. They lost forward T.J. Hall to an ankle sprain early in the second half. They even conceded UB a double-digit advantage on its home floor, where the Bulls had built a 10-game winning streak.
The result didn’t change.
In what qualifies as the most crushing defeat of the Bobby Hurley era, UB squandered a 10-point lead with 10 minutes to play and fell to Ohio for the seventh straight time, 73-70, before the largest crowd of the season at Alumni Arena (5,052).
It’s a defeat that could hinder UB’s quest for a top-four finish and a bye into no worse than the Mid-American Conference Tournament quarterfinals beginning March 13. Instead of drawing into an overall first-place tie with Toledo, Akron and Western Michigan, the Bulls slipped into a deadlock for fourth with the Bobcats and have arguably their three toughest division road games still remaining: at Ohio, at Akron, and at Kent, where they’ve never won.
Under normal circumstances the outcome wouldn’t have surprised. Ohio (18-7, 8-4) owns wins over Toledo and Richmond of the Atlantic 10. The Bobcats are legitimate title threats when all the pieces are in place. But that’s just it. The main pieces are scattered.
Hall’s injury filtered time to freshman forward Antonio Campbell, who in 13 minutes matched his career highs for points (six) and rebounds (six) while scoring two of Ohio’s final three field goals. Taylor’s unavailability threw a career-high 38 minutes to transfer Javarez Willis, who responded with nine points and a season-high five assists. No wonder Bobcats coach Jim Christian looked like he wanted to pinch himself as he took post-game questions.
“I thought our guys showed a lot of courage,” Christian said. “We had some guys who were averaging 10 or 12 minutes a game play 38, Javarez Willis. Freshman Wadly Mompremier hasn’t played in about 10 games. I was just proud of how we stayed together. We could have came apart when they went up 10 with about nine and change to go but we found a way to find a win.”
UB’s demise came at both ends of the floor. The Bulls (14-8, 8-4) responded to their double-digit leads by taking uncharacteristic shots without working much clock. They scored just three field goals over the final 11 minutes, the last coming when Javon McCrea (18 points) recovered a blocked shot and dunked for a 70-69 lead with 2:23 to play. The Bulls were just three for the final 15 from the field,
“When we shot it well in general against zone defenses it’s harder for teams to play us and we didn’t shoot a great percentage,” UB coach Bobby Hurley said. “When we’re not making perimeter shots teams can zone us and we’re not as effective. They did a good job of that. I think it was more that. I don’t like to tell my players that they’re shooting a poor shot or to take away their ability to create. I’m going to have to watch the film and see actually what went on in those possessions.”
Ohio took the lead for good after Will Regan missed the front end of a one-and-one with 1:23 left. Bobcats forward Maurice Ndour (17 points) drew attention high and dished to Campbell for a layup that made it 71-70 Ohio with a minute to go. Jarod Oldham missed a jumper at the other end before Ndour scored on a tip for a three-point lead with seven seconds left.
UB called timeout to set up a potential tying three but never got off a shot. Pressure on the inbound took away UB’s primary options, notably Shannon Evans, and Nick Kellogg (17 points) stripped Jarryn Skeete of the ball 30 feet from the basket.
“They had been in zone. I thought they would play man, which they did,” Hurley said. “We were trying to bring Shannon around on the stagger, then we were trying to flare Josh Freelove to the open side. And they switched everything so Skeete was the last option there for Will to catch and try and hand off to him and try to go off the dribble and get the three. It just didn’t work.”