Ohio guard Teyvion Kirk stepped to the free throw line for a one-and-one with 43 seconds left and the Bobcats trailing by two. He missed the front end.
On Ohio’s next possession, after an Iona basket, Gavin Block went to the line for three free throws. He missed two of them.
In a back-and-forth, high scoring affair at The Convo on Tuesday night, Ohio lost 93-88 to Iona. A late run put the Bobcats in the game, but missed free throws took them out of it.
“I think it’s very clear that this group never believes they’re out of a game,” Ohio coach Saul Phillips said. “We made so many big plays to get back into the game that it’s a tragedy some missed free throws cost us the chance to get the job done.”
The Bobcats have already proven their comeback ability this season, erasing several multi-possession deficits in a four-overtime loss to Indiana State on Nov. 19. On Tuesday, Ohio trailed by eight with three and a half minutes left.
A 3-pointer by Block, a layup by Kirk and another 3-pointer from Jordan Dartis evened the score. In the final minute, after Ohio forward Doug Taylor scored a layup, Kirk intercepted an inbound pass and was fouled.
He flicked the ball toward the hoop, but it rimmed out. After the Gaels scored on the ensuing possession, their coach yelled, “No threes!” Still, Block drove down the court and drew a defender on his 3-point shot. The ball missed, but Block had a chance to make it a one-point game with 20 seconds to go.
He didn’t. On his second miss, Iona forward TK Edogi grabbed the rebound, drew a foul and sunk both free throws to ice the game. Ohio missed six free throws and lost by five, while Iona was perfect on 13 attempts from the line.
“You don’t yell at your kids about that,” Phillips said. “We’ll shoot some free throws tomorrow.”
Missed free throws aside, the Bobcats matched up well with the Gaels despite playing with a short bench.
For the second straight game, Ohio worked with a seven-man rotation due to the absence of forwards Jason Carter (out since Nov. 4, missing his sixth straight start) and Kevin Mickle (out since Nov. 19, missing a second straight game with a knee injury).
That left Taylor, at 6-foot-9, as the only true “big man” in the Bobcat lineup. Fortunately for Ohio, the Gaels were content spending most of the game taking outside shots. The teams combined for 63 3-point attempts.
“They played small ball too at times,” Block said. “They had (6-foot-7) Roland Griffin at the (center). I’d say that played into our hands, we just didn’t execute the way we wanted to.”
Unfortunately for Ohio, Iona hit many of its outside shots, and at an impressive clip. The Gaels didn’t shoot a free throw in the first half, but they hit 10-of-19 3-pointers (52.6 percent) — while shooting just 33 percent elsewhere.
Iona shifted its strategy in the second half, attacking the paint with a size advantage, when less outside shots fell in. Taylor committed four fouls after a spotless first half.
“I think Doug makes a few of those (defensive) plays if you got a bigger guy coming over than Gavin on the help, or James (Gollon),” Phillips said. “And that’s not a knock on Gavin or James, they do everything foot-wise, but life isn’t fair now.”
Life rolls on for the Bobcats on Friday, when they’ll play their third straight home game against Coppin State at 7 p.m.
That leaves no time to dwell on Tuesday’s near miss against Iona, particularly in the case of the free throws that made the difference. Not that Phillips expects Kirk, his freshman point guard, to be dwelling anyway.
“I worry about a lot of things,” Phillips said. “One thing I’ll never worry about is TK’s confidence.”