Updated Thu, Mar 13, 2014 2:46 pm
Two down, three to go.
That’s Ohio’s (23-10) mindset following its 63-55 victory over Miami (13-18) in the second round of the Mid American Conference Tournament on Wednesday.
“This time of the year, the goal is pretty simple, try to win by one and advance,” head coach Jim Christian said.
Neither team managed to create much separation in the game, with the largest lead of the game being an eight point Ohio lead late in the first half. With 11:33 remaining in the second half, Jaryd Eustace scored five straight points for Miami, giving the RedHawks a 43-39 lead. Stevie Taylor quickly responded for Ohio by knocking back-to-back 3-pointers to reclaim the lead for Ohio.
Several possessions later with Miami leading 47-45, Taylor’s counterpart Javarez “Bean” Willis drained a 3-pointer to give the Bobcats a 48-47 lead. Then at the other end, Jon Smith got a steal and tossed it ahead to Willis, who confidently hit a pull-up 3-pointer to push Ohio’s lead out to 51-47. The junior point guard finished the game with 13 points, making it his fourth straight game in double figures.
“Now it’s down to that time where you have to hit (shots),” Willis said. “I feel like if I have to make them, then I’ll make them.”
Even though Willis and Taylor converted four huge 3-pointers, Ohio struggled mightily from behind the arc. Christian’s bunch only made eight of its 28 attempts (28.6 percent) from 3-point range.
Miami, as it had all game, responded to Ohio’s quick 3-point barrage. After a missed 3-point attempt from Nick Kellogg, Will Sullivan raced down court and finished a layup to make it a one point game with 2:07 to go. Then, after a Maurice Ndour layup, Geovonie McKnight sank a pair of free throws to again reduce Ohio’s lead to one point at 56-55 with 0:38 left in the game.
Facing a Miami press, Ohio inbounded the ball to Willis who then lobbed it up to Ndour standing at the free throw line. Ndour then forwarded the ball to Kellogg, who had managed to get behind his defender. Streaking down the court with Taylor at his side, Kellogg threw a quick ball fake and did a Euro step to get to the rim and finish an and-one layup. The senior converted the free throw to make it 59-55 with only 0:32 left in the game.
Kellogg, who had a game-high 20 points, was Ohio’s go-to guy in the final stretch of the game. The senior scored or assisted on 10 of the Bobcats’ final 12 points Wednesday night.
In reference to his clutch play, Kellogg explained that he simply tried to, “just to stick with it and try to do whatever it is my team needs me to do at those points in the game.”
The first half did not feature the runs or impact plays like the second half. It was a slow, ugly half of basketball. There were a combined 20 fouls, and the two teams combined for only 14 makes on 56 attempts in the first 20 minutes of the game.
Neither team was able to find a rhythm in the first half. Despite the sloppy play, Ohio headed into halftime with a 27-23 lead. A big reason for that was the fact that it only turned the ball over four times in the first half. In fact, the Bobcats took care of the ball all night, only coughing it up 10 times against intense Miami pressure.
Ohio’s victory over Miami sets up a quarterfinal matchup with Akron, the Bobcats’ third contest against the Zips this season. The two teams split the season series, each winning in its opponent’s home arena. It seems fitting that Ohio and Akron meet in the MAC Tournament, considering the fact that the two teams have played each other in the MAC Championship the past two seasons.