COLLEGE PARK, Md. — With 1:47 remaining, coach Saul Phillips gave into the inevitable.
Phillips motioned to his walk-ons to enter the game and took out his five rotation players. His team had inched its way back towards single digits for much of the second half, but their efforts proved futile.
Down 24 points with less than two minutes to play, It was time.
“It kind of unraveled on us at the end,” Phillips said. “It was unfortunate.”
The blowout had nothing to do with a lack of preparation. The Bobcats knew what they had to do against Maryland’s hulking defense Thursday night.
They were matched up against four players six-foot-nine or taller, so the gameplan was simple: move the ball, drive through the crease left by a scrambling defense and either dump the ball to an open big for a dunk or kick it out for a 3-pointer.
But in their 87-62 loss at the Xfinity Center, the Bobcats’ gameplan was much easier said than done.
“I thought we had it diagnosed what we had to do,” Phillips said. “We just didn't follow through (with) the execution of it.”
Coming into the game, the Bobcats were playing their best offensive basketball of the season. They had scored 85 points in three of their last four games. But they broke all their good habits against their first Big 10 opponent since 2014.
Excessive dribbling replaced ball movement. Hesitation replaced the quick decision making that was supposed to poke holes in the Maryland defense, resulting in deflected passes and turnovers. Rejections at the rim replaced easy buckets. And open or not, the 3-pointers (5-20) weren’t falling as much as Ohio needed them to be.
The Bobcats were already underdogs against a promising young Maryland team. Even their best game wouldn’t have guaranteed a win. But Thursday’s performance was far from that.
“When you’re playing against a good Maryland team, you’re gonna have to make more than five of 20 threes,” Phillips said. “You’re gonna have to turn the ball over less than 15 times.”
Thursday’s game was supposed to be an exciting occasion. Jason Carter returned with the opportunity to upset a power five conference opponent. It would be the first time during the regular season to see the Bobcats at full-strength.
But they were reminded that realizing their potential wasn't as simple as getting a player back. The team still needs time to gel with Carter in the lineup.
He said so himself.
“We’re trying to add pieces back here and there,” Carter said. “It’s gonna be like starting over again.”
The Bobcats will welcome a chance to start over again after following their largest win since 2001 with an ugly blowout loss. There won’t be any dwelling on the missed opportunities left on Gary Williams Court.
“There’s not a fiber of my being that’s OK with losing by 25,” Phillips said. “We’re gonna go back to work, take our medicine and try to beat a good Western Kentucky team.”