Ohio’s season came to an end Friday with an 82-75 loss to No. 1 Toledo in the semifinals of the Mid-American Conference Tournament.
Playing Toledo as close as it did shows how far Ohio has come this season, but the fact that it came up short shows how much room for improvement Ohio still has going forward.
“I’m really proud of our guys,” Ohio head coach Jeff Boals said. “For their battle, their fight, their toughness and their grit, all season long. We’ve been through it the last few weeks.”
For as much as everything went right for Ohio in the quarterfinals against Ball State and the entire team contributed, it was a one-man show for Ohio against Toledo.
Jaylin Hunter scored a career-high 27 points on 9-for-18 shooting and 7-for-11 from three. He also added six rebounds —three of them offensive — three steals and an assist in what was probably his best game of the season.
“Seeing shots go in early always helps,” Hunter said. “My teammates have so much trust in me and they’ve put so much trust in me throughout the year, even when I wasn’t making shots. That’s why I love this team, and that’s why I love this coaching staff, the trust and confidence they give you through good and bad.”
For the rest of the Bobcats, however, it was a rough night. Outside of Hunter, the Bobcats shot 34.6% from the field and an abysmal 3-for-19 from beyond the arc.
It was those missed 3-pointers that were the biggest issue for Ohio as it was taking on the second-highest scoring team in the country in Toledo.
“I thought we got great looks, and we just didn’t make them,” Boals said. “When you play a really good team you’ve got to capitalize when you get an opportunity.”
The Bobcats weren’t able to capitalize enough on Friday, but despite that, they were in the game until the very end, even getting Toledo’s lead down to four in the final minute after three free throws from A.J. Brown.
There were multiple times Friday when it seemed as if Toledo was about to pull away, but Ohio found an answer every time.
“It was our togetherness,” Hunter said. “That’s something we’ve taken pride in all year, throughout good times and bad times, we’ve just stayed together. We had a couple of turnovers, fouls, missed defensive assignments, and I just remember guys saying, ‘Stay together, we’re good.’”
For much of the 2022-23 season, Ohio did not seem like a team capable of winning the MAC Tournament, but it finished the regular season winning seven of its last nine games and took the MAC’s best team down to the wire in the conference semifinals.
Despite the uncertainty of college basketball, which both Boals and Hunter spoke about after the game, it is impossible to look at this season with anything other than hope for the future of a program that has won at least one MAC Tournament game in all four seasons under Boals.
Hunter will be back. Brown, who scored 41 points across his first two MAC Tournament games, is only a freshman. And James, who might’ve improved more than anyone during this season, is only a freshman as well.
The Bobcats may have fallen on Friday as Hunter was outdueled by MAC Player of the Year RayJ Dennis, who finished with 28 points, but just as the Rockets did this year, the Bobcats will be coming back next year with a vengeance.