Mark Sears said Ohio’s win over St. Francis came down to a defensive rebound.
The Bobcats had been on the back foot for the last five minutes of their 78-75 victory over the Red Flash. Their 12-point lead in the second half had evaporated into a one-point margin with no room for error. The Red Flash were on a 13-2 run. Even as the final seconds ticked off the clock, the Bobcats were scraping for their sixth win of the season.
But after two missed layups by St. Francis, Sears saw a chance to put the game to rest. He grabbed the ball and dived to the floor, and he eventually forced a foul on St. Francis guard Maxwell Land. With a third of a second left in the game, Sears was granted two free throws. He knocked both down with ease.
Sears said he was just trying to keep St. Francis away from the free throw line.
“In that type of situation, we’re trying not to foul and put them on the line,“ Sears said. “So we just go straight up, and then after he missed we just gotta find a body and box out. And we gotta come up with that 50-50 ball, which we did, and that’s how we won the game at the end.”
The guard ended the night with 24 points, eight rebounds and five assists, leading in almost every statistical category. For the second game this season, he’d scored 20 or more points in a game. But despite his performance, Sears felt he could’ve been better. He’d turned the ball over eight times, which he saw as a blotch on his stat line.
But Sears wasn’t the only one who felt he could’ve done better. Coach Jeff Boals felt Ohio as a whole was weak in one specific department: turnovers.
Ohio turned the ball over 20 times against St. Francis, including 14 in the first half. Before Saturday, it’d never given up more than 12 turnovers in a game. Bad passes and lost balls let St. Francis hang around and score 23 points off turnovers.
“Very uncharacteristic of our team,“ Boals said. “But to have 14 at halftime, it was inexcusable ... I think in the second half we had six, which is better, but some of the six were probably ones that we should not have done. It goes back to making simple plays, and to have 23 points off our 20 turnovers, that was a big part of them making a run first half and second half.”
Ohio was only down for 53 seconds in the first half and even put an 18-point gap between itself and St. Francis after a quick 14-2 run. But issues kept popping up. St. Francis put up five points in the last 39 seconds off of Ohio turnovers, and it kept up the pressure while Ohio tried to recalibrate.
“We knew at halftime, you know, I didn't feel good,“ Boals said. “I would’ve felt better with an 18-22 point lead, but the momentum. You always want to close a half well, start a half well, and we did not start the second half or end the first half very well.”
The Bobcats won by their slimmest margin of victory this season. They’d claimed their first five wins of the season by double digits, but Saturday was different. The Bobcats turned the ball over too many times and let the Red Flash stay on their heels.
St. Francis stayed with Ohio until it all came down to a defensive rebound.