INDIANAPOLIS — Did Ohio lose, or did it run out of time?
Down 15 points at the half, Ohio coach Jeff Boals knew his team would have to pull off the extraordinary in order to save Ohio’s season. Players like Jason Preston and Ben Vander Plas were eager to get back on the Hinkle Fieldhouse court and give it a go. Unfortunately for the Bobcats, the clock emerged as another opponent.
And when the clock struck zero, the buzzer throughout the arena signaled that Ohio’s time was up. The dance was over. The season was finished. The legacy, however, will live on.
Ohio may have run out of time during its 72-58 loss to Creighton in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, yet the impact the team left on the Athens community will be timeless.
“I told them as an alumnus and as a former player ‘thank you,’” Boals said. “I love them, and this team will be bonded for life. And you know it hurts right now, but it’s gonna be a great memory someday.”
The pain is still fresh.
The Bobcats (17-8) came into Monday night’s game feeling like the hottest team in the country. Creighton (22-8) had barely won its first game against UC Santa Barbara, while Ohio knocked off the defending national champions. The Bluejays were struggling from deep, while the Bobcats were confident they could let it fly.
Even the hundreds of Bobcat fans in the stands felt confident. The cheers of Creighton’s fanbase were often overpowered by the roar of Bobcat Nation. That roar simmered to a meow at halftime.
Starting off fast, Ohio looked poised to put the Bluejays on their heels. Something was off, though, and Creighton knew it. With 7:39 remaining in the half, Preston made his first point — a free throw.
Creighton knew early on that if you stop Preston, you have a good chance of stopping Ohio’s high-powered offense. The Bluejays kept the junior in check for the rest of the half and went on a 16-2 run in the process.
“They were really determined to get the ball out of my hands in the first half,” Preston said. ”I missed a lot of makable shots tonight. This is on me. I missed so many makable shots.”
Preston’s off night — four points, nine rebounds and seven assists — didn’t strengthen Ohio’s chances, but it’s not fair for him to shoulder the entire blame. As a team, Ohio shot 7-for-30 from 3-point range and gave up 18 points off turnovers.
In the second half, Ohio did everything it could to get its offense going. Creighton wanted the ball out of Preston’s hands, so Ohio looked to Dwight Wilson (12 points), Lunden McDay (11 points) and Mark Sears (eight points) for answers.
Ohio knew that Creighton could score with the best. Even Boals had to admit he was surprised how well the Bluejays played defensively.
“They’re a lot better defensive team after playing them than I thought coming in,” Boals said. “Give them a lot of credit, we just came up short today. We didn’t have it, and a lot of it was them, and some of it was us.
The “them” part of the equation also was huge offensively for Creighton. Bluejay guard Marcus Zegarowski led all scorers with 20 points and four 3-pointers, Christian Bishop (12 points) was a dunking machine and the entirety of Creighton’s starting lineup finished in double-digits.
If Ohio hadn’t ended the first half in such a deep deficit, it might’ve been able to come out stronger after halftime. Boals has said multiple times this season that it takes more energy climbing out of a hole than getting into one.
But what the Bobcats needed was time.
With 2:26 remaining, Sears hit a free throw to bring Ohio within nine. It was the first time Ohio had trailed by single-digits since the first half. Hinkle Fieldhouse rocked with excitement, but the Bobcats were physically drained.
Creighton would again extend the lead to double-digits, erasing all of Ohio’s work and securing a spot in the Sweet 16 against undefeated Gonzaga.
The trip back to Athens will be tough for the Bobcats. The journey that was taken was remarkable. Ohio overcame injuries, COVID-19 pauses and other adversity to pull off one of the greatest seasons in program history.
So, no, Ohio didn’t run out of time. They’ll be remembered until the end of it.