Ohio needed defensive stops down the stretch, something that's plagued the team over the last month.
The Bobcats defense was by no means perfect, but they didn't have to be. The defense held on, by a thread, to pull out a victory despite the Bobcats’ late 12-point lead dwindling to four with under a minute to go.
Ohio exploited Eastern Michigan’s early sloppy play en route to a 79-71 win at the Convocation Center in Ypsilanti, Michigan.
The Bobcats (16-8, 8-5 Mid-American Conference) held on, thanks to 33-42 free-throw shooting and the Eagles’ 18 turnovers and 34 percent shooting.
“I get paid to not get nervous,” Ohio coach Saul Phillips said. “I can promise you, and maybe it’s my mistake, but I can promise you that we have never had run a press break with that lineup we had out there in the last 3:20."
Ypsilanti was simply basketball hell. At least for Ohio in the first half.
Eastern Michigan’s 2-3 zone defense slowed Ohio’s usually quick tempo. The Bobcats scored just six interior points in the first half and eventually finished with 22.
Ohio can thank Jordan Dartis, Jason Carter and Mike Laster for reviving the offense in the second half, though.
Dartis scored 26 points on a night filled with relatively-poor shooting (40 percent for Ohio), 30-combined turnovers, four players fouling out and about a 10-minute official review of a double technical foul by Gavin Block and Eastern Michigan's James Thompson.
Dartis finished 5-of-11 from the field and 12-of-12 on free throws. Laster bolstered Ohio’s second half offense by adding a career-high 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting. Carter finished with 11 points and 14 rebounds while Thompson sat out late with four fouls.
“I did challenge our guys at halftime to not be just a 3-point shooting team,” Phillips said to ESPN. “We certainly do that well, but you got (to) have some balance.”
Historically, Ypsilanti has not been kind to the Bobcats. Ohio hadn't won in Yspilanti since 2006.
The Bobcats reached more than 60 points in the Convocation Center for the first time since 2010. It was the first win on a Tuesday night for Ohio since Jan. 10.
But, Ohio was able to change the narrative Tuesday to maintain its No. 2 seeding within the MAC with just five games remaining.
“It definitely builds confidence,” Laster said. “It kinda builds on top of each other and my prediction is, it’s going to keep getting better.”