TOLEDO — Ohio played 35 good minutes against Toledo on Tuesday night. It was the five bad ones that let the game get away.
Toledo opened the game on a 15-0 run and it looked like a repeat of Ohio's worst home conference loss in history just three weeks ago was on deck once again.
But then, Ohio got its act together on the offensive and defensive end. Even then, despite a shutdown second half paired with an improved shooting performance, the Bobcats continually had to play catch-up due to that poor first five minutes. They also sent Toledo to the line 37 times.
The poor start could've been overcome as old problems were corrected, but the Bobcats ultimately fell short as new problems arose; they fell 82-74 at Savage Arena.
"Again, I don’t think there’s just one thing," coach Saul Phillips said. "They came out and pressured us like Western did and we didn’t attack it well. Once again, they came out absolutely blazing. Take away that stretch, and you’ve got yourself a really interesting ball game there.”
The same problems existed for the Bobcats early on — they committed two turnovers in the game's first three minutes and started 0-for-7 from the field. But then, the turnovers cooled down as the offense heated up. It looked like all the problems that needed to be fixed had been attended to.
Ohio cut the lead to seven at one point in the first half, and to six points twice in the second, but was then plagued by a completely new problem that seemingly came out of nowhere.
The Bobcats sent the Rockets to the free throw line for a season-high 37 times — 10 more than the next closest game, which was a four overtime win against Indiana State.
"Last game it was turnovers, so the grease fire is popping up in different areas," Phillips said. "If we can get it all together, we can beat anybody in this league. We really feel that way.”
Toledo made 32 of those 37 free throw attempts, cashing in on the Ohio errors. On the other end, Ohio only shot 20 free throws.
"You can choose to pile on, you can choose to placate, keep everybody happy and where the rubber meets the road is right down the middle somewhere," Phillips said. "It’s been just like tonight. Twenty-seven free throws in the second half, we haven’t given that up all year long."
Despite a stark turnaround on the defensive end, the foul trouble kept coming up for the Bobcats. James Gollon played excellent defense on Tre'Shaun Fletcher, who torched Ohio for 18 points, six rebounds and four assists in the Jan. 16 meeting.
Tonight, Fletcher had just 17 points on five made field goals. He finished with eight rebounds and just one assist. He found himself at the free throw line six times, though. He made all six.
As a team, Toledo only shot 41.2 percent from the field — and made just 13 field goals for the final 35 minutes. But still, it wasn't enough.
“I thought we did a much better job defending them than we did the last game," Phillips said. "So that’s progress. But there’s not gonna be any confetti on the bus ride home, that’s not where we’re at mentally either."
Kevin Mickle had a career-high 24 points and six rebounds on the offensive end, but the slow start and continual problems plagued everyone.
“We needed to come out with way more energy from the start," Mickle said of the 15-0 run. "I came in, tried to give a spark. Tried to do a crazy dunk to get people hyped. No one got hyped.”
For the Bobcats, it looked as if they'd get run over by the Rockets once again this season for the first five minutes. Then, the game leveled out.
Ohio (10-15, 3-10 Mid-American Conference) hung with one of the conference's best teams in Toledo (19-7, 11-2 MAC), but just when it looked like Ohio had turned a corner, new problems arose.
It's been that kind of season for the Bobcats, who at every turn, have found a new problem ready to squash whatever momentum had been coming their way.
“Keep working, keep grinding," Phillips said. "It isn’t the message I’d prefer to be sending to them, but the alternative is bleak.”