Ohio coach Saul Phillips said his team is playing as good as it possibly can 26 games into the season. That was before Saturday’s game against Kent State.
The Bobcats weren't at their best at the M.A.C. Center and lost to the Golden Flashes, 70-67, despite Mike Laster’s 16 points and Jaaron Simmons’ 14 points.
The loss snapped Ohio’s four-game win streak. A win would’ve promised Ohio (18-9, 10-6 Mid-American Conference) a top-four spot in the MAC Tournament, meaning an automatic birth straight to Cleveland.
Phillips, though, was relatively positive during his postgame interview.
“I love this team,” he said. “I don’t like them. I love them.”
He added that Saturday’s game was a “good game”, just one Ohio was on the wrong side of.
And indeed the Bobcats were.
Ohio’s once 13-point lead vanished with 54 seconds left to play after Kent State converted an and-one to take a 64-63 lead. After trimming the lead to one with 24 seconds to go, Kent State's Jaylin Walker made four-consecutive free throws which set Ohio up for a last-chance 3-pointer to tie it.
Simmons corner 3 air balled instead.
“I think we’re well positioned,” Phillips said. “We lost a hard-fought game on the road to a team that’s playing very well. I don’t like that. That’s not an excuse. We will go back and get to work.”
The Bobcats fell apart in the second half. They made just four field goals in the last seven minutes and sent the Golden Flashes to the line for 21-of-27 free throws for the game. In contrast, Ohio made just 5-of-7 free throws. Kent State’s Deon Edwin led all scorers with 20 points and 15 rebounds.
“It still stinks losing,” Phillips said. “ I don’t like it. I don’t like anything about it.”
In the first half, the Bobcats survived a nine-point deficit and poor shooting as Laster’s 12 points gave them a 35-27 halftime lead. Laster has scored 10-or-more points in five consecutive points in five-straight games now.
The Bobcats have not swept the Golden Flashes since 2013.
“Good teams don’t overreact from situations like this,” Phillips said. “Good teams just get it back together.”