Despite playing a tough basketball game from start to finish against the defending conference champions, the Bobcats ran afoul.
Ohio got into foul trouble before it had a chance to establish a rhythm in a 68-63 loss to Akron Saturday.
By the final buzzer, four Bobcats had fouled out and another finished with foul fouls, including a technical. Meanwhile, the Zips stayed out of foul trouble most of the game and worked the ball inside to 7-footer Zeke Marshall, who was effective from the field and the free-throw line.
Ohio (13-4, 1-2 Mid-American Conference) was whistled for 30 infractions in the contest. Akron (11-6, 3-0 MAC) finished with 21.
“I thought our guys exhibited a lot of toughness and a lot of togetherness,” Ohio coach John Groce said. “It was a very difficult game to play with 51 fouls being called — there was really no flow to the game or rhythm in the game.”
The Bobcats were forced to abandon their starting lineup shortly after tip-off when forward Jon Smith picked up two fouls in the first two minutes. His replacement, Reggie Keely, also picked up two fouls in only five minutes off the bench. Three other Ohio players entered the break with two fouls to their names.
But the foul problems escalated in the final 20 minutes. The Bobcats committed 18 infractions in the second half, leading to early exits for Smith, Keely, Ivo Batlic and Walter Offutt.
The fouls gave the Zips plenty of chances from the free-throw line. Akron finished with 29-for-44 shooting from the charity stripe. The team attempted only 40 shots from the field in the game.
Marshall finished with a game-high 17 points, including a 7-of-11 mark from the charity stripe. Many of Ohio’s fouls came from trying to stop Akron’s largest threat, who said he received some valuable advice from the officiating crew.
“I was just playing my normal game. The refs started talking to me about some of the things I do to prevent people from fouling me,” Marshall said.
"I usually try to keep people’s arms off me from being reached. He told me, ‘Stop doing that and I’ll start calling fouls for you. I’ll make sure of that.’ ”
Ohio’s foul troubles did not stop it from leading most of the game. Akron’s first lead came with less than four minutes to play in the first half, but Bobcat guard Nick Kellogg drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give Ohio an edge at the break.
The Bobcats held onto their slight lead for most of the second half but relinquished it for good when Akron point guard Alex Abreu sank a crowd-pleasing 3-pointer with 3:58 to play.
Cooper and Baltic struggled from the floor, as they went a combined 7-for-32. The rest of the team shot 17-for-30.
Cooper made eight of his nine free throws to lead the Bobcats with 13 points. Offutt chipped in with 11 points before fouling out, and Kellogg added 11 more.
No Zip starter besides Marshall finished in double figures. Brett McClanahan and Nick Harney supplied 10 points each off the bench.
“I thought this week our guys played as hard as they have all season,” Groce said. “I think that’ll serve us well going forward as long as they choose to be so.
“It’s just one of those games that it’s a shame someone has to lose.”