Coach Cole Bell and his players had a long chat after Ohio’s loss to Liberty on Friday.
The Bobcats had just lost their fourth straight game in brutal fashion, an 8-2 defeat from the Flames in a “Midnight Madness” game that is a rowdy tradition in Liberty athletics. Saturday ended in a shootout, which was Ohio’s fourth of the season.
The weekend is a reflection of the problems the Bobcats have faced throughout the season.
Nevertheless, Ohio can still take the good, the bad and the ugly from its weekend in Lynchburg, Virginia. Here’s what happened:
The Bobcats are close to finally putting together a 60-minute game. Although they’ve been swept the last two series, three of those four games have dragged into shootouts, which proves that Ohio can keep up with high-ranked opponents, but needs to learn how to close out a game.
“We played fantastic for the first two periods,” Bell said. “We had control and felt confident in how we were playing. But we lost that control and the energy started feeling scrambled.”
No matter how well the Bobcats play for the first 40 minutes, Ohio has struggled to put away opponents.
Saturday highlighted what problems have plagued the Bobcats. Liberty managed to score four unanswered goals in the final ten minutes of the game, and Ohio only forced overtime when Timmy Thurnau found the net with 1:49 left.
“Once Liberty gets hot, they get hot,” Bell said. “We had a lead with nine and a half minutes left. [Losing the lead] should never have happened.”
If Ohio doesn’t learn how to close out games against ranked opponents, then series against No. 2 Lindenwood, No. 12 Illinois and No. 5 Indiana Tech have a good chance of ending in disappointment like the last five games.
Ohio’s frustrations boil over into big fights too often.
Friday was the pinnacle of those fights.
After Liberty players escalated a confrontation with Tyler Harkins, several smaller fights exploded into one big brawl, which led to an ejection for Harkins. Tom Pokorney was issued a 10-minute major for unsportsmanlike conduct, and he was among five Ohio players issued penalties for the fracas.
“We couldn’t handle our emotions,” Bell said. “The size of the occasion got to us, and we came out flat. When you can’t handle those types of situations, your body freezes, and that’s exactly what happened.”
Ohio earned 45 penalty minutes Friday night. After the series with Liberty, the Bobcats have 215 total penalty minutes this season and have averaged 17.9 minutes per game.
Almost a full period is wasted in the box per game for Ohio.
The Bobcats have to pull their act together. Unnecessary penalties result in too much time lost to make any meaningful impact on Ohio’s game. The elements to build a strong game are there, but as of now, it is buried under incomplete play and emotions that escalate too quickly and too often.