Sophomore forward Blake Hibbitts grabbed a missed free throw and passed it to point guard Chris Fowler with less than 13 seconds left.
Fowler pushed the ball up the court and found Hibbitts open from 3-point range. Hibbitts rose up, released the ball and his shot clanked off the rim, failing to tie the game.
Central Michigan came up just short on the road, falling to the Ohio Bobcats on Wednesday, 71-67 .
Head coach Keno Davis opted not use his final timeout after Hibbitts grabbed the rebound.
“We only had one timeout left,” Davis said. “I felt like if we called timeout, it might allow Ohio to set up defensively. I also wanted to save it in case we got a two-point basket. It was a three-point game at the time and we could have cut it to one. Unfortunately, we used more timeouts than I wanted to during that run. You try and go with your gut at the time I think we made the right decision. We had a great look to tie the game and I couldn’t ask for much more.”
The loss stung the team more than others have. Davis said his players were upset with the way the final minutes were called.
“We’ll talk about it on the bus,” Davis said. “Guys are not happy. They are frustrated with the game and how the last few minutes turned out. We talked briefly on how, when you are trying to become a top team, don’t expect any breaks or calls. You have to make your own breaks. The top teams get those calls and it’s our goal to be a top team. We will use this as a spring board to be a better team at the end of the season.”
CMU blew an 18-point lead with 17 minutes remaining.
Physical play hurt the Chippewas during Ohio’s 21-3 run to tie the game up.
“(There was) a lot of physical play,” Davis said. “Some of the shoving and grabbing, we didn’t respond well to. We have to be tougher and not expect to get a call on the road. We have to learn how to play through that and it’s a learning process. We knew they would make a run but I thought our guys responded well with a chance to win at the end of the game.”
Fowler led the team with 19 points.
Braylon Rayson, Austin Stewart and John Simons all chipped in with double-digit efforts.
“The story tonight as it has been during the season is that I couldn’t be prouder of the team,” Davis said. “I think we work extremely hard. We had some things go against us late that prevented us from a victory. I think we can not only compete against the top teams but we aren’t too far away from beating them and being a top team ourselves.”
Fowler is the unquestioned leader of the team. When he picked up his fourth foul with 11 minutes remaining, it put Davis is a tough dilemma.
Play Fowler and risk him fouling out, or sit the leader in the most critical stretch.
“It’s not ideal for your best player to get in foul trouble,” Davis said. “But where we are in our program, guys are going to have to play through being in foul trouble. We are going to take some chances with playing them. We gave him some breaks when we could but we also put him out there when he could have picked up his fifth foul.”
Despite the loss, Davis said he feels his team is on the verge of breaking through to the next level.
“Nothing would surprise me with this team,” Davis said. “The only thing that would surprise me is if we didn’t leave an incredible effort on the court. We are improving rapidly. I know it’s tough for fans to just read the scores and not see us play to see that. You’re talking about going on the road to Toledo and Ohio and having a chance to win at the end. Not many teams can do that. We just have to keep this great attitude and as we continue to improve our goal isn’t to break through one game, it’s to break through every game.”