ATHENS — It was one of best efforts for the Bobcats this season, and yet Saul Phillips found little joy in the immediate aftermath of Ohio’s 82-79 loss to visiting No. 19 Buffalo on Tuesday night inside the Convocation Center.
Ohio (13-16, 5-12 Mid-American Conference) were run out of the gym in the first meeting this season against the Bulls (27-3, 15-2 MAC) in a 114-67 loss in Amherst, N.Y. The rematch was a completely different story however.
But it was a story with the same ending — an Ohio loss.
The Bobcats were 44 points better than their game two weeks ago against the Bulls, but it didn’t feel any better for Phillips.
“No, we were three points short,” Phillips said.
“You only get so many cracks against a ranked team in the MAC,” Phillips said in opening his postgame press conference.
“We had a crack, and we made a loud out. A loud out.”
Ohio’s improved offense, keyed on ball and player movement and attacking the paint, found success and firm footing against the MAC’s top team in defensive efficiency. The Bobcats didn’t cave in against the Bulls’ pressure defense, non-stop floor running, or a barrage of 3-pointers in the first half.
But in the end, the Bulls hit tough shots in big spots and clinched the MAC regular-season title for a second year in a row. Buffalo tied a school record with its 27th win of the season on Tuesday, and tied a school record with its 15th MAC win.
Senior guard Jeremy Harris led five Bulls in double figures with 20 points. Senior guard C.J. Massinburg had 17 points, including 10 in the final 3:08. Senior forward Nick Perkins had 17 points and eight rebounds, senior guard Davonta Jordan chipped in 12 points, and sophomore Jayvon Graves added 10.
Senior forward Doug Taylor led Ohio with a career-best 20 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots. He hit 9 of 11 shots.
Sophomore guard Teyvion Kirk added 17 points, five assists and five rebounds, and sophomore forward Jason Carter added 15 points and five boards.
Buffalo won the game at the 3-point arc. The Bulls were 15 of 34 (44.1 percent) from 3, including an 11 of 20 shooting effort in the first half. Ohio finished 3 of 17 (17.6 percent) from the arc.
The Bobcats were somehow still standing after the Bulls dropped in 11 3-pointers in the first half.
Jordan hit four in the game’s first 8:20 — he had three in the previous five games combined — and the Bulls had eight makes on 11 attempts through the first 11 minutes.
Despite the rapid-fire long balls, Ohio remained win striking distance as the Bobcats set up Taylor (10 1H points) in five lay-ups around the rim.
Buffalo led 39-29 with 2:33 left in the half, but Ohio stabilized and cut the margin to 41-35 at the break thanks to a 6-2 closing. Carter scored on a lefty lay-up, and added two free throws with 3.1 seconds left to give Ohio some hope in the second half.
Ohio wiped out most of a 12-point second-half deficit, and trailed 67-65 will less than four minutes to go. Ben Vander Plas, working against the shot clock, missed a deep 3-point heave.
On the ensuing possession, Massinburg converted a contested 3-pointer from the right win to push the lead to 70-65.
After two Carter free throws made it 70-67, Harris drilled another contested 3 from the right side for a 73-67 lead.
The tough makes created enough space to carry the Bulls down the stretch. Ohio pulled to within three points twice in the final 17 seconds, and Gavin Block had a three-quarters court heave at the buzzer to potentially tie it but it sailed to left.
Doug Taylor put up a career-high performance against Perkins, who many regard as the best big in the MAC. Taylor has consistent, and productive, over the last four games.
Teyvion Kirk continued to display more growth. He shot the ball well (8 of 14), continued to limit his turnovers (2) and had a season-high five assists to go with his 17 points.
In general, Ohio’s passing and ball security has taken a big leap in the last two weeks. The Bobcats had just 11 turnovers against Buffalo, and had 20 assists on 33 made field goals.
Freshman Jason Preston — eight points, five rebounds, five assists, two turnovers — showed well against the best backcourt in the MAC. Don’t be surprised if he’s a surprise winner of the MAC Freshman of the Year award.
After three straight games of good shooting from the arc, Ohio reverted to form on 3s against UB. The Bobcats hit just 3 of 17, and many of the first-half misses (1 of 8) were good, open, looks.
Ohio was much better in transition defense, and in general gave up 3-pointers to shots it was comfortable with. But, in two games, the Bulls have made 34 of 67 3s against Ohio (50.7 percent). UB is shooting 34 percent from the arc for the year.
Ohio wraps up the regular-season on Friday with a 7 p.m. start in the Convo against Miami (15-15, 7-10 MAC). The Redhawks lost, 75-66, to visiting Kent State on Tuesday. Miami won the first matchup 79-59 in early February.
Around the MAC
Buffalo clinched the title and the No. 1 seed with the win at Ohio. Elsewhere, Toledo ripped Western Michigan 76-57 to move into the No. 2 seed, while Akron ambushed now third-seed Bowling Green, 91-67.
Eastern Michigan topped Ball State, 68-61, and Northern Illinois stung CMU, 89-86, in Mount Pleasant.
Ohio knows it will be on the road for the first round of the tournament on Monday. Where, however, remains unknown. The Bobcats could still end up at Kent State, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Akron or Northern Illinois given on the final results shake out.
No. 19 Buffalo 82, Ohio 79
BUFFALO 82 (27-3, 15-2 MAC)
Montell McRae 1 0-0 3, Jeremy Harris 6 6-6 20, Jayvon Graves 4 0-0 10, Davonta Jordan 4 0-0 12, C.J. Massinburg 2 11-14 17, Dontay Caruthers 0 0-0 0, Nick Perkins 7 0-1 17, Ronaldo Segu 1 0-0 3, Jeenathan Williams 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 25 17-21 82; 3-point goals — 15-34 (Jordan 4-8, Perkins 3-5, Harris 2-5, Graves 2-5, Massinburg 2-6, McRae 1-1, Segu 1-2, Caruthers 0-1, Williams 0-1).
OHIO 79 (13-16, 5-12 MAC)
Jason Carter 5 5-5 15, Doug Taylor 9 2-4 20, Jason Preston 3 2-2 8, Teyvion Kirk 8 0-0 17, Gavin Block 3 0-0 8, Ben Vander Plas 1 0-0 2, Antonio Cowart Jr. 0 0-0 0, Connor Murrell 4 1-3 9; TOTALS 33 10-14 79; 3-point goals — 3-17 (Block 2-3, Kirk 1-1, Carter 0-1, Preston 0-2, Murrell 0-2, Cowart 0-3, Vander Plas 0-5).
TEAM STATISTICS/INDIVIDUAL LEADERS
Field goals — Buffalo 25-59 (.424), 3-point goals 15-34 (.441); Ohio 33-67 (.493), 3-point goals 3-17 (.176); Free throws — Buffalo 17-21 (.810), Ohio 10-14 (.714); Rebounds — Buffalo 38/10 offensive (Perkins 8); Ohio 35/10 offensive (Taylor 6); Assists — Buffalo 17 (Massinburg 6), Ohio 20 (Preston/Kirk 5); Steals — Buffalo 6, Ohio 8; Blocks — Buffalo 2, Ohio 3 (Taylor 3); Turnovers — Buffalo 16, Ohio 11; Personal fouls — Buffalo 15, Ohio 15; Attendance — 5,834; Technical fouls — None.