The Bobcats had won their first pair of MAC games- including an impressive win against the Buffalo Bulls- when they arrived in Ypsilanti to face the Eastern Michigan Eagles. Instead of continuing their season turn-around, Ohio got absolutely crushed by EMU, losing 76-40 in the 'Cats worst performance of the year.
On Saturday, the Bobcats got their revenge for the embarrassment in Michigan, defeating the Eagles 76-73. It was another close game in which Ohio made a crucial stop on the final play of the game.
"That's right, a two game streak. I looked at my phone, and the MAC is not calling for a breakup of this dynasty quite yet," said a grinning Ohio head coach, Saul Phillips. "But at the same time, it feels a lot better."
"It was embarrassing what happened at their place, and it was nice to get a win at home," Campbell said after the game.
The Eagles lost the tip, but got the start that they wanted thanks to some poor shooting by Ohio. It took more than 2 minutes for either team to score- Brandon Nazione finally hit a layup to end the scoring drought. The Bobcats immediately responded with a Maurice Ndour jumper, but the Eagles then went on to score 8 unanswered to take a 10-2 lead. The Bobcats' early shots were coming almost entirely from long distance, and the team started 0-6 from beyond the arch. Even 3-point specialist Javarez Willis missed his first four attempts.
But Ohio clawed its way back into the game thanks to its strong defense and rebounding- the Eagles had zero 2nd chance points in the first half. The 'Cats began to work the ball inside and finally took the lead with 8 minutes to play. As Ohio established an offense in the paint, it opened up the perimeter for the 3-point shooters, like Willis, who started hitting their shots.
By halftime, Ohio had opened at 33-24 lead.
The second half saw a return of the turnover troubles that had plagued Ohio earlier in the season. The Eagles opened the half with a 14-6 run to pull EMU within 1, 38-39. It was the closest that the Eagles would ever come to taking the lead.
But it did not feel like a game that Ohio controlled for most of the second half. The home crowd in the Convocation Center seemed to be holding their breath, hoping that time would run out before the Eagles could overtake the Bobcats. For much of the half's opening minutes, Ohio could not get the ball in the paint or make jump shots.
At the midpoint of the second half, the Bobcats finally seemed to find their groove. With just over 8 minutes to play, Ohio had opened a 15-point lead over EMU and a victory seemed to be close at hand. But then the Eagles went into the press, and Ohio saw its lead slowly melt away. Raven Lee, who has been feeling ill recently, did not start but absolutely tore the Bobcats apart once he got going.
Still, it looked like the Eagles would not have enough time to tie it up, even with Ohio's Khari Harley and Ryan Taylor fouling out. But the Bobcats were treated to a taste of their own medicine as Lee and Tim Bond hit a pair of clutch 3-pointers for the Eagles to cut the lead to 2 with 45 seconds left.
With both teams in the double bonus, the game came down to the free throw line in the last few minutes. Although he was outdone on the stat sheet by his fellow seniors Ndour and Willis, Stevie Taylor shined in the games final minutes. He hit 3 of 4 free throws in the final minute, and when EMU looked to tie the game on the final play, Taylor's defense on Lee forced a bad shot and sealed the win for Ohio.
We put ourselves in a position to win this game, we just didn't make the plays down the stretch to win this game," said Eastern Michigan head coach Rob Murphy, "Give these guys credit, coach Saul [Phillips] prepared them well."
Once again, Javarez Willis lead the way for the Bobcats with 22 points. Antonio Campbell, a force under the basket, picked up a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds. Ndour finished with 16 points and was 1 rebound shy of securing his own double. Ohio's length in the paint seriously hindered the Eagles offense, as the Bobcats blocked 9 shots and finished with a 38-28 rebound edge.
"I like guys taller than me," Phillips said with a laugh. "If I have to look down to you, your odds of getting a scholarship here are minimal."
A sickly Lee, who did not start, lead both teams with an astonishing 33 points in 21 minutes. Jodan Price was the only other Eagle with a double-digit point total, finishing with 12. Murphy made extensive use of his bench, as 12 players saw time on the court.