Men's basketball: Another slow start finishes Bobcats

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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ATHENS, Ohio — At halftime, one could hardly tell the big fix Ohio was in unless they peeked at the scoreboard.

Spectators were entertained by the dance team, and students and the pep band in the O-Zone cheering section were all smiles. After all, the Bobcats had trailed by double digits in seven other games this season and won.

This time, though, the gig was up.

Mid-American Conference scoring leader Javon McCrea hit two jump shots and two free throws in the final four minutes to lead Buffalo to a 69-64 victory over the Bobcats last night before 6,283 at the Convocation Center.

The Bobcats (19-9, 9-6) had two chances to tie, but Javarez Willis missed a three-pointer from the top of the key with 25 seconds left and T.J. Hall shot an airball from three-point range with 4.7 seconds left.

Two free throws by Shannon Evans with 1.2 seconds left sealed it for Buffalo.

“The whole season coach has been telling us to cut that out,” backup forward Treg Setty said of the slow starts. “We had been able to play through that, but it came back to bite us against Western Michigan and tonight. We laid an egg. I think we flat out gave it away.”

Ohio missed a chance to sweep Buffalo (17-8, 11-4) and tie the Bulls for first place in the East Division with three games remaining in the regular season.

The Bobcats also would have held a tiebreaker over Buffalo for one of the four byes to the conference tournament.

Western Michigan is 12-3 for the best record in the MAC, followed by Buffalo and Toledo at 11-4 and Ohio and Akron at 9-6. The top two seeds get byes to the semifinals and the third and fourth seeds first-round byes.

“When you control your destiny, you take advantage of it,” Ohio coach Jim Christian said. “If you are going to be one of the top four seeds, you have to show you can play well on three straight nights, and we haven’t done that yet. It’s never going to be effort with us. It’s going to be consistency.”

Buffalo took a 42-27 lead at halftime on a three-pointer Joshua Freelove with one second left. The Bulls were 17 of 33 from the floor despite missing nine of 11 three-pointers, blocked three shots and had seven steals.

It was yet another hectic game of catch-up for the Bobcats, and they cut the deficit to 48-43 with 13:05 left with a 12-0 run capped by a trey by Hall.

Ohio closed to 63-61 with 3:06 left on a three-pointer by Willis and 65-64 with 1:10 left on a three-pointer by Nick Kellogg, but it couldn’t get over the hump.

A big key was McCrea holding Maurice Ndour to four points on 2-of-8 shooting.

“Javon is a two-way player and he wants that matchup,” Buffalo coach Bobby Hurley said. “We were focused on trying to put pressure on Ohio.”

Kellogg said the Bobcats will be ready for Kent State at home on Saturday.

“What we’ve got to do is get more guys going at the same time,” he said. “And, obviously, we can’t get ourselves in that type of hole again. We have to get off to faster starts. Buffalo did a good job of pressuring us in the first half.”

mznidar@dispatch.com

@MarkZnidar

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