CLEVELAND — Facing a halftime deficit, the Bobcats took control of the game with the same composure and intensity that helped them win 10 of their previous 13. Then they lost it all.
The Bobcats blew a nine-point lead in the final three minutes of regulation and let Ball State take control in overtime as they lost 76-73 last night in the quarterfinals of the Mid-American Conference Tournament at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
“We just couldn’t hold on to that lead,” said senior forward DeVaughn Washington. “We’ve had problems with that at the beginning of the year — just stepping off the pedal a little bit and not finishing games off. I guess that’s pretty much what happened tonight.”
The Bobcats (18-15) lost their composure with a late-game lead. They led 65-56 with 2:42 to play, but the Cardinals scored the final nine points of regulation. Fouls, missed free throws and blown defensive assignments all contributed to the collapse.
After Randy Davis made a 3-pointer to cut Ohio’s lead to 65-62 with 1:57 to play, Ivo Baltic missed a jumper but grabbed a rebound after a Ball State miss. He was fouled but missed the front end of a 1-and-1. Ball State came back with a layup and foul shot by Chris Bond to tie the game with 36 seconds remaining.
D.J. Cooper dribbled the clock down before missing an off-balance shot — a failed play call all too familiar at the end of the game for Ohio — and the game went into overtime.
“I felt like I could hit the shot,” Cooper said. “I just put a little to much on it, and it hit back rim.”
In the extra session, Davis found room with Baltic defending for a tie-breaking 3-pointer. With Ohio trailing 75-72 and 59 seconds to play, Nick Kellogg appeared to make a basket while being fouled. But the officials whistled an offensive foul as coach John Groce erupted on the sideline.
After a missed shot by Jarrod Jones, Cooper raced down the court and rushed a 3-pointer that fell off the rim.
“I was just trying to make a play,” Cooper said. “Davis is a smart player. He knew I was looking for Tommy, so he stayed with Tommy, and I was forced to
The Bobcats had yet another chance after Ball State fouled Cooper with a 76-72 lead. He made the first free throw, intentionally missed the second, and the ball rolled out to Kellogg, who's off-balance 3-pointer fell short.
After a 36-31 halftime deficit, Ohio took the lead with a 12-4 run sparked by a balanced offensive attack and intensified defense, two areas it lacked in the opening 20 minutes.
Baltic tallied 12 points and a career-high 14 rebounds. Cooper added 19 points and 10 assists, but the Bobcats abandoned their winning strategies at the end of the game. Timid shots and shaky hands cost the Bobcats as they fumbled rebounds, looked unsure and fouled at the end of the game.
“We had a layup chance, we had a 1-and-1 chance, we had a 12-footer in the lane chance,” Groce said. “We missed some shots in there, but it really had more to do with the defensive end … they had eight field goals in the entire second half, and they had three of them in the final 2 minutes, 40 seconds.”