AKRON, Ohio - With just under 11 minutes left in the first half of Ohio’s eventual 83-77 loss to Akron, Dwight Wilson III made a layup to cut Akron’s lead to 22-20.
Ohio’s next basket came on a Miles Brown and-1 with just under seven minutes to play in the half to end a quick 6-0 Akron run before things got too out of hand.
That positivity for the Bobcats was short-lived, however, as they would not score again until an A.J. Brown layup with 2:41 to go cut the Zips’ lead from 18 to 16.
In between those two Ohio baskets, Akron scored 13 points, featuring back-to-back 3-pointers from Trendon Hankerson and a pair of layups from Enrique Freeman, who finished the game with 32 points and 15 rebounds.
For the first nine minutes of the game, Ohio stayed right with Akron, who moved back into a tie with Kent State for first place in the Mid-American Conference with the win. But after that point, something that has seemed likely all season became all too clear for Ohio.
The Bobcats do not belong with the best of the MAC.
This is the third time this season that a similar run has sunk Ohio’s chances of a marquee win. On Jan. 17 against Kent State, a 17-3 run in the middle of the second half put an end to Ohio’s chances of handing Kent State its first MAC loss.
Then, in Ohio’s very next game, Toledo scored the first 13 points of the contest, and the game was pretty much over before it even started.
“They extended that thing to 13, 15, 17,” Ohio coach Jeff Boals said. “Against a good team, you can’t do that. Give our guys a lot of credit, we came out and competed, but just ran out of juice at the end.”
The Bobcats looked better in the second half, in which they outscored the Zips 47-36, but that only makes the loss that much more hurtful.
At this point in the season, Ohio has developed a pattern, and it is a worrying one for a program that has come to expect to be around the top of the MAC year in and year out.
The Bobcats cannot put together a full 40 minutes of solid play against the teams that they have been competing with since Boals became the head coach.
The best thing to come out of Saturday’s loss was the play of A.J. Brown, who has been excellent over the last three games after scoring just eight total points in the three games prior.
After scoring 15 points against Akron, Brown is now averaging 14 points over his last three games, and his seven-point burst at the end of the first half Saturday was the one of the only reasons Ohio’s second half comeback was even possible.
“Like most freshmen, he kind of hit a wall in the middle of the year,” Boals said. “But the last couple games, he’s been really good scoring the basketball for us, and he’ll get better and better.”
The Bobcats are going to need him to continue to improve, but more importantly, they have to be able to start putting together some more complete games.
For now, Ohio is barely hanging on to the final spot in the MAC tournament, but it cannot afford many more games like Saturday.