Ball State center Trey Moses didn't have much time as he caught a high-arching inbounds pass from across the floor. There were just 1.8 seconds left.
Moses let a quick-shot fly from the wing. The Bobcats froze.
Ohio had already blown a 25-point first half lead and a 19-point halftime lead. Momentum was clearly on Ball State's side. Moses' shot would've been another blown lead, one that would've tied the game at 79 and sent it to overtime.
But Moses missed.
The Bobcats survived — barely — at Worthen Arena on Friday night and beat the Cardinals 79-77.
“Certainly not acceptable, not good enough," coach Saul Phillips said. "But, I’m saying all that with a smirk on my face instead of a frown, so that’s good.”
Moses' shot ended the threat of yet another blown lead for Ohio this season, one which the Bobcats had already lost three games in which they led by double digits.
This time, however, the defense held late.
“We’ll go through the cold hard facts, look at how we coughed up yet another lead in the film room," Phillips said. "At the same time, I’m pretty grateful for this win. I’m grateful for our guys.”
Up two with under 30 seconds left, the Bobcats ran back down the floor to get back on defense and prevent a tie after a Jaaron Simmons missed layup, and to possibly prevent something even something more unthinkable, a Cardinals win.
The Bobcats defense, which allowed 47 second half points in just 19 minutes and change, forced two contested shots and two tipped passes, the latter of which killed any Ball State momentum.
“Some of it is our style of play, but guys, everything went wrong for them in the first half. Everything," Phillips said. "In the second half, they started hitting their 3’s. We were as good as we can be with this group defensively in the first half.”
Ohio (15-8, 7-5 Mid-American Conference) looked to be on the way to an easy win in that first half as it led by 19 at halftime. The Bobcats got contributions from all over the floor with five players in double-digits for points.
Simmons, Jason Carter, Gavin Block, Jordan Dartis and Mike Laster all added significant contributions on the offensive end, so much so that the final Ball State (15-10, 6-6 MAC) shot didn't seem possible just an hour earlier.
"The first half, we were making the extra pass," Dartis said. "It wasn't just our offense that was getting going, our defense was really active getting deflections, turnovers, that's what got us that good lead."
But that lead evaporated with 4:21 left in the second half, exactly 20 minutes after Ohio had taken its 25-point lead.
"Biggest thing I'd say, lack of intensity coming out of halftime," Dartis said. "They got hot early, got their confidence up."
The confidence that Ball State had in the second half was completely stolen from Ohio's first half performance.
Ohio had seen these games slip away before, even as recently as a week and a half ago.
But this time, the defense held.