The Bobcats fought. They fell. They got up.
They never held a lead, they had their worst shooting performance of the season and, at times, they looked helpless reaching for rebounds.
And still, Ohio stuck with Buffalo, the titan of the Mid-American Conference, down to the end in a 73-66 loss Friday night at The Convo.
While Ohio (9-11, 2-6 MAC) stayed submerged at the bottom of the conference standings, Buffalo (16-5, 8-0 MAC) extended its win streak to nine games. No other MAC team has finished within single digits of the Bulls.
“I don’t want to be part of a program where 2-6 is OK,” coach Saul Phillips said. “I don’t. I’m not going to be. But we take care of a few things a little bit better, and we (would’ve) just knocked off a team that hadn’t had anybody coming within 10 points of them.”
In the closing minutes, the Bobcats stayed within striking distance. But a season-worst 34 percent shooting (22-of-65) kept them from closing the gap all the way.
Down six with 2:33 left, guard Teyvion Kirk missed a dunk while standing directly under the basket. On Ohio’s next possession, forward Gavin Block missed the front end of a 1-and-1 free throw opportunity. Then Buffalo hit a three on its next possession.
Ohio came back with a three of its own, from guard Mike Laster, who was fouled in the process and completed the four-point play to cut the margin to five with 1:35 left.
The Bulls held on from there, though, icing the game with 5-of-6 free throws inside the final 90 seconds.
“We talked about moral losses (after the game),” guard Teyvion Kirk said. “We probably did the best in the conference playing them, so that’s a plus. But still got a lot of work to do.”
Ohio’s best work came on the defensive end, where there were two main tasks: prevent offensive rebounds for a larger, more athletic Buffalo team and slow down the Bulls’ high-flying offense that uses the 13th-fastest tempo in NCAA Division I, according to kenpom.com.
“Those are two big ways that they score,” Phillips said. “We took away one of them; we weren’t able to take away both.”
Ohio, which spent a chunk of Thursday’s practice running the length of the court in fast-break defense drills, held Buffalo to a single basket in transition.
The fight for rebounds was a losing cause, but not so much by the raw numbers — Buffalo had 15 offensive rebounds to Ohio’s 12 — as by the follow-up results. The Bulls cashed in on second-chance points, scoring a 19-8 advantage in that category.
The Ohio defense, as a whole, did its job against the top-scoring team in the conference (83.6 points/game). It was the Bobcat offense that dragged behind.
On a different night, with the offense clicking, the Bobcats may have had the game plan necessary to do what no MAC team has done yet: beat Buffalo.
Friday presented an opportunity for Ohio. First, the chance to grab a signature win heading into the second half of conference play. Now, to take solace in yet another close loss and turn it into a better result in the games to come.
“We’re not about to start hopping around the locker room after a seven-point loss,” said Phillips, whose team has lost five of six. “At the same time, when losses are mounting up, and you’re close, and you see how you could get there, it’s important you don’t go in the tank either.”