At one point in the second half, the Central Michigan Chippewas held an 18-point lead against the Ohio Bobcats. Despite seeing its lead evaporate, the Chippewas had one last chance to tie the game.
Blake Hibbitts’ open 3-point attempt came off the rim, junior point guard Stevie Taylor made the second of his two free-throw shots, and Ohio defeated Central Michigan, 71-67, at the Convocation Center on Wednesday night in front of 5,438 spectators.
“We believed in the system, and we believed in ourselves,” senior forward Jon Smith said. “Last year, we didn’t know how to finish, and I think this year we have been able to grasp that better.”
After they saw an 11-6 lead disappear, the ‘Cats were able to gain control of the game. Senior guard Nick Kellogg hit four straight free throws, and a Smith jumper and Taylor layup lifted the Bobcats to a 23-18 lead with 5:25 left until halftime.
Treg Setty drove the ball to the basket and converted on a layup to give the Bobcats a 25-20 lead, but Central Michigan was able to answer back. Austin Stewart scored seven points in the final 3:49 of the first half, and the Chippewas ended the first half on a 13-0 run, which gave them the lead, 33-25, at halftime.
Central Michigan (7-12, 0-7 MAC) was able to extend its run into the second half. A Chris Fowler 3-pointer and Braylon Rayson floater gave the Chippewas a 38-25 lead with 1:17 gone in the second half.
Junior forward Maurice Ndour, who finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds, said the team did not give up hope even when it was down by a significant margin in the second half.
“Coming into the second half, I told my teammates that we have been here before,” Ndour said. “We were not surprised.”
Back-to-back makes by Travis Wilkins and Smith cut the lead to 38-30, but Central Michigan went on another run, this time a 10-0 spurt, to make the score 48-30 with 14:51 left in the second half.
Ohio coach Jim Christian said that the team knows it must show more hustle if it wants to keep winning games.
“The obvious things are that we cannot give up nine offensive rebounds in a half, and we cannot have nine turnovers in a half,” Christian said. “One thing about this team is, if you let them back in the game, they will win the game.”
Even though they were behind by a big deficit, Ohio started to make its run. Ten points by Ndour, seven points by Kellogg and close-range makes by Taylor and T.J. Hall spurred Ohio on a 21-3 run, which tied the game at 51 with 7:54 remaining in the game.
Fresh off an 0 for 12 shooting performance against Eastern Michigan, Hall added nine points and four rebounds for the ‘Cats. Christian thinks Hall did his part in impacting the game.
“He’s a senior, and I told him to make it a little easier for yourself,” Christian said.
Following Rayson’s free throws, which gave the Chippewas a 64-60 lead, Hall’s back-to-back baskets and free throws from Kellogg gave Ohio a 67-65 lead with 2:49 left to play.
“I want him (Kellogg) to be aggressive,” Christian said. “We want the ball in his hands in all situations. He was aggressive tonight.”
With 75 seconds left, Ohio was leading 69-67, and it called a timeout to draw up a play with three seconds left on the shot clock. Kellogg missed a 3-pointer, and, on the other end, Fowler drove to the basket, but Ndour contested his shot, which did not go in the basket.
“I believed in the system because that’s what we’ve been doing,” Ndour said. “I just had to play great defense.”
Ohio (15-5, 5-2 MAC) will now prepare for its showdown against Toledo on Saturday at the Convo. Start time is set for 1 p.m.