Published Mon, Dec 19, 2011 7:57 pm Dateline
Updated Tue, Dec 20, 2011 2:59 pm
Ohio assistant coach Dustin Edwards said it best. Porsha Harris "beasted it" on Monday in Las Vegas.
Harris' 29 points (tying her collegiate career high) and 14 rebounds led Ohio to an 80-75, double-overtime win over Xavier in the second game of the Basketball Travelers "Duel in the Desert."
Less than 24 hours after getting pounded by 32 points against Oklahoma, the Bobcats registered arguably the biggest win of head coach Semeka Randall's tenure. Xavier, which was 29-3 just a season ago and went to the NCAA Elite Eight in 2010, lost eight players this past offseason but should compete for the Atlantic-10 Conference title this winter.
"This is a huge win, no doubt, with just how resilient our kids were," Randall said. "It's definitely a top one for me and for the kids who have been here with me for a long time."
"I think it was a big win and I think Ohio needed this," Harris said. "A lot of teams look at us as this small town team…I feel like this is a big win for us."
The junior college transfer from Gulf Coast Community College was outstanding, making 13 field goals (eighth best in Ohio history in a single game) on 20 attempts. She also blocked three shots.
"She's a beast," Bobcat forward Tenishia Benson said of Harris. "This is what we see all the time. She just really took it to them. Me and Shavon [Robinson] are looking at each other going, 'Why are they giving us the ball? We can give it to Porsha, and we'll be fine!'"
Harris almost single-handedly kept Ohio (6-6) in the game in a chaotic second half, when the lead changed hands 16 times. The lead changed 25 times in the 50 minutes of play and the score was tied 13 times.
Ashley Fowler's three-pointer with just a few seconds remaining in regulation fell short and Alesia Howard's triple try at the end of the first overtime was just long.
In double overtime, Ohio iced the game from the foul line. Benson made all 10 of her free throws in the last five minutes and the Bobcats made 13 of 16 foul shots in the second overtime period alone. Benson finished the contest a perfect 14-14 from the stripe, good for the second-most made free throws in a single game in Ohio history.
"I kind of tune out every distraction," Benson said. "I don't think of the score as much…it's on my mind, but I try to stay at an easy comfortable level."
"I've never worried about her at the line, ever," Harris said. "I just sit back and wait to play defense. We're good under pressure, and I felt like "T" was making free throws, get her the ball. She stepped up and made them."
The Musketeers shot 12-27 (44.4 percent) as a team in the second half, but Ohio kept pace. The Bobcats were 13-28 (46.4 percent) during the same stretch. Most of Ohio's second half offense came from Harris. She made 8-12 field goals to keep Ohio in the game with Xavier (3-7). She also passed the 500 career point mark on Monday, between Gulf Coast and Ohio.
"I needed to help my team out," Harris said. "I felt like [Xavier] wasn't guarding me like they should have been so I attacked the defense."
"Finally," Randall said, with a laugh. "We've been on [Porsha] for quite some time. She has the ability to do that. If she can continue to be consistent in that she can do some really special things in this program. We fed off her. She is our go-to player. That's what we expect from her, and (defenses) have to figure out how to guard her."
Harris was joined in double figures by Benson (20 points) and Shavon Robinson, who scored 13 points. Those three combined for 44 of Ohio's 69 shot attempts. Randall and her coaching staff call them Ohio's "Big Three."
"It's been a process for us," Randall added. "Shavon was coming back from injury. Tenishia went out with an injury, then Porsha went out with an injury. We want to win so bad that it's kind of hard to have to go through that process. We're just excited for those three…carrying the load for our team."
Ohio won its first game without starting point guard Kat Yelle, who suffered a right knee injury in the second half against Oklahoma on Sunday. Her return timetable is unknown, but junior Ashley Fowler stepped in and Ohio didn't miss a beat. Fowler finished with four points, six rebounds, four assists (one turnover) and a steal in 44 minutes. Fowler also helped hold Xavier point guard Shatyra Hawkes to two points on 0-8 shooting from the field.
Yelle had been averaging 3.9 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 2.4 steals per game before her injury.
"[Ashley] did the little things," Randall said. "She was solid (on defense) against their go-to player, made her take tough shots. Her assist-to-turnover ratio was outstanding tonight, I was really thrilled to see her do that. She's always been steady."
"That's Ashley," Benson said. "Every game she's played in this program, that's always been Ashley. This is a great opportunity for her, she's a great leader on the floor. She has championship in her blood. This game felt like high school for her, I bet."
Fowler won four straight state championships at Mount Notre Dame High School in Cincinnati, Oh.
Randall theorized that Xavier simply looked past Ohio in a tournament that includes Oklahoma and Syracuse.
"You don't hide it from players," Randall said. "They're smart, they know. But it's sweet when people just underestimate you and you go out there and give it to them."
Ohio hadn't scored 80 points or played in an overtime game since Dec. 19, 2009, when it lost by eight to Clemson at the Convocation Center. For those calendar-savvy folks, that's two years ago to the day.
The challenge for Ohio now is to sustain the success it found at Cox Pavilion on 12/19/2011. On Tuesday, Ohio will play Big East power Syracuse (8-3, RPI #67), which beat Xavier by three on Sunday in the same invitational.
"I don't think you settle and you don't be satisfied with what you've done," Randall said. "We just have to grind it out. We make it look ugly but we love doing that. A lot of it starts with our defense, so they way we dictate tempo tomorrow will be huge."
Mid-American Conference play starts January 4 against Buffalo, and Randall thinks her team can sneak up on the MAC, just as it did against Xavier in Las Vegas.
"I don't think we're proven yet in MAC play," Randall said. "We haven't done anything yet. We'll obviously enjoy this victory tonight. It's definitely a good building block for us."