KENT — Something about the M.A.C. Center confounds Ohio.
In the final minute of Friday's 70-69 loss to Kent State, the Bobcats had every opportunity to steal a road win, a yeoman’s chore in the Mid-American Conference. They led by one and created a wide-open layup opportunity, and Kent State missed two free throws.
None of it mattered.
“We’re a team that is, unfortunately, still trying to figure out how to finish games at times,” Phillips said.
With 45 seconds remaining, Kevin Mickle set a screen for Teyvion Kirk on the left wing and rolled to the basket. Kirk split two defenders with a bounce pass that hit Mickle in stride for an open layup.
At the other end, Kent State threw an entry pass to Adonis De La Rosa, who, until that point, had been contained by Doug Taylor and had just six points.
But Taylor fell down as the pass was thrown, and Gavin Block couldn’t stop De La Rosa from finishing at the rim.
So Phillips turned to his lone rotation senior and leading scorer, Mike Laster. Block dropped a pass over a defender and into the cutting Laster’s hands. Laster might’ve had a layup had he driven the rest of the way. But he stepped back and pulled up from mid-range, and the shot fell short with 3.1 seconds remaining.
The Bobcats never got another chance.
“We’re getting good looks,” Block said. "It’s definitely frustrating right now.”
After missing the first free throw, Kevin Zabo missed the second intentionally. The ball zipped off the front of the rim and landed into Jaylin Walker’s hands.
Walker dribbled out the clock, and the Bobcats walked off the court in the same amount of time it took them to squander the victory.
“There’s not much you can do about that,” Phillips said. “(Zabo) missed it brilliantly, and it went to the perfect spot, and it ended up being the perfect call at the perfect time.”
The Bobcats now sit at 8-8, losers of three of their first four conference games. In a conference that many expect to be decided by a slim margin, they’ve put themselves in an early hole.
But maybe it’s not all their fault.
Zabo admitted afterwards that he was supposed to miss the free throw softly. Of course he was. That’s just been Ohio’s luck in the Phillips era: In four trips to the M.A.C. Center, the Bobcats have never won.
Maybe the intimate, high school-sized gym disrupts the players’ rhythms. Or maybe they just have a distaste for the navy blue and mustard yellow that coats the bleachers.
Phillips sure doesn’t have the answer.
“Pixie dust, I don’t know,” Phillips said sarcastically. “I don’t know how to answer that other than you go on the road in the MAC, it’s tough.”