Mark Sears thinks that once Ohio learns how to end a game correctly, it’ll shift from a good team to a great team.
The Bobcats are well aware of their lax attitude that creeps onto the court as games wind down. They can build a massive lead just as quickly as they can watch it evaporate once they loosen their grip. In their 74-62 win over Northern Illinois on Tuesday night, the Bobcats were once again forced to stare their biggest weakness in the eyes.
“That’s one of our weakest things as a team,“ Sears said. “We just got to get better at closing the games up. Once we do that, we’re gonna be pretty good, but I’d say that’s our weakest point right now. We’re still working on that.”
Ohio (15-3, 6-1 Mid-American Conference) had been in firm control leading into and out of halftime Tuesday. It had run out to a 28-point lead after burying Northern Illinois (5-11, 2-4 MAC) under a mound of scoring runs and taut defense. Sears acted as the catalyst for Ohio’s offense, leading with 26 points, six rebounds and six assists. He and the Bobcats seemed to be back to their old selves after being humiliated by Toledo last Friday.
But then the Bobcats relaxed.
In the final seven minutes of the game, the Huskies went on a 20-4 run, impeded only by a pair of free throws and a layup from Sears. However, the Bobcats tripped over themselves trying to salvage their lead. They missed five 3-point attempts as the clock winded down. Four turnovers in seven minutes only fed into the Huskies’ rally. The Bobcats struggled to make a layup while the Huskies sank their final five field goal attempts with ease.
“Hopefully, we’re up 28 again. We can learn from this,“ Ohio coach Jeff Boals said. “We’ve just got to understand time to score. If you don’t have a wide open layup, bring it out and make them run offense. I thought we got good looks when we ran down ... We got the kickouts. We gotta knock those shots down.”
Ohio’s accuracy from beyond the arc once again came into question. The Bobcats shot 26.7% from beyond the arc, their worst night against a MAC opponent since it shot 13.6% on the road against Western Michigan in early January.
But Ohio shot poorly on its own floor, and over half of its field goal attempts were from 3-point range. Boals wasn’t shy in acknowledging the poor shooting, and he thinks Ohio is missing too many easy shots.
“I think we’re getting good looks. I’d have to go back and look at it, but we’re missing a lot of wide open ones,“ Boals said. “With the cushion that we had, we could afford to miss the ones we missed. But to put a complete game together, step up and knock those shots down.”
The Bobcats were almost tripped up in a game they’d sealed midway through the second half. They buckled down and ran out the clock, but they allowed one of the weakest teams in the MAC to run rampant for the final seven minutes of the game. Seven minutes turned Ohio’s knockout win into a race to stifle a 20-4 scoring run.
Tuesday showed that while Ohio is still one of the strongest teams in the MAC, it still has a fatal flaw the rest of the conference is more than willing to exploit.