As Ohio University students returned from a six-week break, the Bobcats hoped to teach their fans a lesson in Dominance 101.
But yesterday, teaching duties belonged to the guest lecturer: Robert Morris.
The Bobcats (12-2) watched their nine-game win streak come to a halt at the hands of the Colonials (11-4), who defeated the home team 70-67 to spoil Ohio’s bid for the best start in school history.
With a win, Ohio would have picked up its 13th victory in 14 games and might have nudged its way into national top 25 polls.
The loss could damage Ohio’s consideration for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament if the team fails to win the Mid-American Conference Tournament. It was Ohio’s first loss at The Convo in its last 14 games.
Despite trailing for most of the game, the Bobcats had plenty of opportunities to catch up in the final two minutes. They created turnovers by using a full-court press and reduced the Colonials’ lead from eight points to three with 49 seconds remaining. But Ohio’s final four shots missed the mark, allowing Robert Morris to escape with a hard fought victory that was anything but pretty.
“I thought our effort was outstanding. I thought our execution was terrible,” Ohio coach John Groce said.
Only two other Ohio basketball squads have ever opened a season 12-1, and no team had done so in the last 72 years. No Bobcat squad has ever started 13-1.
“It’s something we wanted, but obviously it’s one game at a time for us,” redshirt junior guard Walter Offutt said. “We’re not worried about whoever set that record a long time ago.”
Thus far, Ohio has been successful without any seniors in the regular rotation. Juniors D.J. Cooper, Ivo Baltic and Reggie Keely are the most experienced Bobcats. Add in returning starter Nick Kellogg — a sophomore — and this young squad is surprisingly experienced.
Ohio entered last night’s game shooting a healthy 45 percent from the field, but the team struggled to find its rhythm against Robert Morris. The Bobcats shot only 35 percent on field goal attempts, including a meager three-for-26 mark from 3-point territory.
But they stayed in the game thanks to Robert Morris’ possession troubles. The Colonials committed a whopping 31 turnovers in the contest and twice allowed the Bobcats to climb back from 11-point deficits.
Robert Morris overcame its turnover woes with efficient offensive production and quality rebounding. The Colonials hit 53 percent of their shots from the field, made 81 percent of their free throws, and out-rebounded Ohio 43-29 — allowing the team to gut out a win despite its sloppy play.
“I’ve never seen a team win a game with 31 turnovers,” Robert Morris coach Andrew Toole said. The Colonials are in first place in the Northeast Conference.
Velton Jones scored a game-high 17 points before fouling out, while Coron Williams chipped in another 14.
The Bobcats heated up down the stretch, but could not overcome their ice cold 3-point shooting. Cooper finished with 13 points but made only two of his 12 attempts from beyond the arc. Sophomore T.J. Hall missed all seven of his long-range shots.
“It was just one of those nights,” Cooper said.
Groce suggested another explanation.
“Maybe, if anything else, we wanted to win the game probably so bad that we tried to make a few too many home-run plays,” he said.
Now, the Bobcats must turn their focus to the MAC campaign, which kicks off with a road trip to Bowling Green Saturday. Ohio’s quick start has turned the team from a possible contender to a title favorite, thus making the Bobcats the likely recipient of each opponent’s A-game.
“We’ll start season two, really, on Wednesday,” Groce said. “I think the biggest thing I want our guys to understand is we’re a good team. Not great yet, but good. We’ve got a chance to be great. We’ll continue to work at it and be humble.”