With 3:40 left to play, Teyvion Kirk forced a steal on Ball State guard Tayler Persons, who he had been verbally sparring with all evening long.
On the other end of the floor, though, Kevin Mickle missed a layup — and Kirk missed the follow-up. Ohio couldn't cut into the seven point lead, as that sequence epitomized everything that went wrong down the stretch.
It wasn't until a Kirk 3-pointer with 1:05 left — with Ohio trailing by eight — that broke a nearly four minute drought without a field goal. The Bobcats had their chances down the stretch; they just couldn't find a bucket when they needed to as they fell to Ball State 75-68 at The Convo on Tuesday.
"That last four minute stretch, understand missing shots, that stuff happens," guard Jordan Dartis said. "I’m more thinking, ‘OK, if we get a stop, I think the way we run our offense, with the personnel that we have, we can score at any time.’ The bigger picture was more on the defensive end getting stops.”
But the stops on defense ended as the game came to its final moments. It didn't help the Bobcats couldn't finish under the basket.
Ohio ended the night 8-of-21 on layups, which contributed to a 38 percent shooting night. Were some of those shots to go in, perhaps the final sequence of Mickle and Kirk's miss, and lack of stops on the defensive end would have mattered less. Kirk's 3-pointer would have mattered more.
The basics, however, were what plagued the Bobcats (8-7, 1-2 Mid-American Conference) in just their second home loss of the season.
“From our locker room’s perspective, the story of the game is missed opportunities around the rim," coach Saul Phillips said. "I think we got way too many good looks to shoot 37 percent tonight, and that’s on us. Missed point blank layups.”
Ohio led by two at the break but couldn't overcome the issues that shouldn't have become just that. Instead, the Bobcats found themselves fighting to climb back in a game they didn't think they need to.
“We work on that every day in practice; (baskets) haven’t really been falling lately," Kirk, the Bobcats' leading scorer with 17, said. "You just continue to emphasize that and work on that, so down the road we’ll finish those.”
Despite going 14-of-17 from the free throw line, the Bobcats missed three free throws in a row in the final minutes, which would have cut the Cardinal lead down to a one-possession game. That just added onto the missed opportunities pile.
Ohio's usual leading scorer, Mike Laster, was held to just 13 points on the night and scored just two points in the second half with Cardinal defenders draped all over him.
Even through all of that, Ohio had its chances to finish and take over the game. That's what Phillips, Dartis and Kirk all said postgame: that they knew they missed their chances down the stretch.
Those scoring chances were close in nature, but, with each miss, the Bobcats fell farther and farther back of a lead they never reclaimed.
“Thought we did a reasonable job defensively, save for some sloppy closeouts in the second half," Phillips said. "But that’s a pretty good offensive team. We generated enough good looks to win the way we defended tonight, we just needed to finish better.”