BUFFALO, N.Y. — Ohio can defend Buffalo effectively. The Bobcats proved it Jan. 26 when they became the first Mid-American Conference team to finish within 10 points of the Bulls, albeit in a loss.
But Saturday’s 108-82 loss told a different story. After holding Buffalo to 73 points in the first meeting, they allowed more regulation points than any Ohio team in the 21st century.
No stark changes affected either team in the four weeks between matchups. If anything, the Bobcats were playing their best basketball of 2018 before traveling to Alumni Arena.
How could they look so much worse?
“I would say communication was a major factor,” forward Doug Taylor said. “We knew they were a great transition team. Us not following our (scouting report) bit us in the butt a little bit. Or a lot.”
Taylor and the Bobcats aimed to slow down the 14th fastest-paced team in the country. They knew how quickly Buffalo could blow open a lead — yet they still allowed 18 fast-break points, lost track of open 3-point shooters in transition and didn’t run back on defense as often or quickly as they needed to.
They’re not as deep as they thought they’d be when the season began. And the bench got shorter when Jordan Dartis subbed out with 17:14 remaining because of his ailing hip. Dartis’ absence only emphasized the need to keep Buffalo in the half court.
Ohio failed anyway.
“We got a little lazy, defensively," Taylor said. “Just didn’t want to run back and run with this team. It hurt us a lot.”
Even when the Bobcats followed the scouting report, they couldn’t stop the Bulls. Play off Dontay Caruthers? He scored 19 points and made two 3-pointers. Double team post-ups? Buffalo repeatedly found open back door cutters because of the double teams.
Buffalo is the best team in the conference, and defensive communication is difficult on the road. But no team struggled to stop Buffalo as badly as the Bobcats did Saturday. The Bulls hadn’t scored 108 points all season. They couldn’t muster 75 the first time against the Bobcats.
Ohio allowed them to do whatever they wanted the second time.
“It was tough watching the tape of us offensively against them the first time, and it was a blast watching the tape defensively," coach Saul Phillips said. “Tonight, it’s gonna be flipped. Absolute opposite.”
Phillips has just over a week to plug the holes his team showed Saturday before the MAC tournament begins. The Bobcats aren’t a bad defensive team — they just played horribly for one game against a great offensive team.
The 108 points they allowed is alarming regardless of circumstance. But Phillips trusts his team to not turn a bad game into a bad trend.
“If I said I wasn’t worried about it after giving up 108 points, I’d need to be taken somewhere and be evaluated,” Phillips said. “At the same time, the breakdowns were transition defense and screen-and-roll defense. Those haven’t been consistent problems for us all year.”
The Bobcats lost momentum and confidence Saturday. They missed a chance to prove they can play with the best team in the conference, and they lost ground in the race to host a first-round tournament game in the process.
But Phillips isn’t worried about the tournament seeding or the storyline surrounding his team with two regular-season games remaining.
“I’m more concerned about our transition defense and our screen-and-roll defense,” he said.