ATHENS, Ohio– Unable to overcome some late free throw troubles, the Ohio men's basketball team (8-5, 0-1 MAC) fell to Northern Illinois (8-6, 1-0 MAC), 72-66 in overtime in their Mid-American Conference opener, Saturday afternoon (Jan. 5) inside the Convocation Center.
"It's a disappointing loss from the standpoint that we had so many opportunities," fifth-year head coach Saul Phillips said. "The red-letter things that pop out to me are 11-of-25 from the free throw line, and not even the number of turnovers that we had, but the type of turnovers we had at times. NIU is the first team that's really gone toe-to-toe with us on the glass and Lacey James was a real problem for us tonight, and while Levi Bradley didn't have his gaudy numbers, getting Carter into foul trouble was a real issue tonight as well."
Sophomore guard Teyvion Kirk (Joliet, Ill.) finished the game with 22 points, going 10-of-16 from the field, while also grabbing nine boards. Junior guard Antonio Cowart, Jr. (McComb, Miss.) wrapped up the game with a career-high 14 points, going 3-of-7 from three-point range and 5-of-5 from the free throw line. Redshirt sophomore forward Jason Carter (Johnstown, Ohio) finished with nine points and seven rebounds, while freshman guard Jason Preston (Orlando, Fla.) finished with nine points and a team-high four assists.
The Bobcats opened the game on a 15-2 run, helped by Preston, who scored Ohio's first seven points. Redshirt freshman forward Ben Vander Plas (Ripon, Wis.) would stretch Ohio's early lead to 13 after draining a three-pointer at the 11:32 mark. NIU would cut the lead to 10 with 9:40 left, before back-to-back buckets from Kirk put the Bobcat sup 21-7.
After back-to-back three-pointers from NIU's Trendon Hankerson cut the Bobcats' lead to 26-21 with 2:20 left in the half, Cowart, Jr. would drain his second three of the day, followed by a layup from Taylor to give Ohio a 31-21 lead with 1:07 left. After a defensive stop and an Ohio timeout with 43 seconds left, Cowart would drain another three, giving Ohio a 34-21 lead as the teams went into the locker room.
At the half, the Bobcats shot 54.0 percent from the field, 42.0 percent from three-point range and 100 percent from the free throw line, while NIU shot 27.0 percent from the field, 38 percent from three-point range and 100 percent from the free throw line. The Bobcats out-rebounded the Huskies 21-10 while dishing out six assists and three blocks. The Bobcats also scored 16 points in the paint compared, to NIU's four.
Individually, Kirk led the Bobcats with 10 points , followed by Cowart, Jr. with nine points and Preston with seven points and three rebounds.
A three-pointer from Kirk in the opening minutes of the second half put the Bobcats up 14 with just over 18 minutes to go in the game. The Huskies would then go on a 15-0 run to take the 38-37 lead with 12:40 left.
The teams would trade baskets with the lead changing hands multiple times before Cowart, Jr. hit three free throws to give Ohio a 44-42 lead with 10:26 left in the second half. NIU would go on to take a 56-52 lead with 2:44 left before Carter and senior forward Doug Taylor (Columbus, Ohio) hit free throws to cut the Huskies' lead to two with 1:57 left. Senior forward/guard Gavin Block (Lincoln, Ill.) would then connect on a layup and then his free throw to make the game 58-57 in NIU's favor with 41 seconds left.
NIU would go on to take a three-point lead with 17 seconds left, however, with eight seconds left, Vander Plas would drain a corner three and be fouled on the play to tie the game. However, Vander Plas would not connect on the free throw and the game with go to overtime tied at 60-60.
In overtime, NIU would start off with a layup before Carter would get one of his own to tie the game at 62-62. After a three-pointer from Hankerson to give NIU a 65-62 lead, Ohio would chip away again tying the game at 66-66 with 1:28 left. However, the Bobcats would be unable to overtake the lead for a final time and would fall by the final of 72-66.
Overall, Ohio shot 43.6 percent from the field, 29.2 percent from three-point range and 44 percent from the free throw line, while NIU shot 41 percent from the field, 42.9 percent from three and 76.5 percent from the free throw line. Both teams finished the game even in rebounds, with 38 apiece, while Ohio dished out 11 assists, had three steals and seven blocks compared to NIU's 12 assists, six steals and three blocks.
For the Huskies, Lacey James finished the game with 20 points and 14 rebounds, followed by Eugene German who finished the game with 16 points and five assists. Dante Thorpe finished the game with 12 points, while Levi Bradley finished with 11 points and six rebounds.
Up next, the Bobcats take MAC play on the road on Tuesday, Jan. 8 when Ohio heads to Bowling Green to take on the Falcons. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. inside the Stroh Center.