Willis Shines As Ohio Advances To CIT Quarterfinals

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For the second straight game, Ohio’s leading scorers struggled, and for the second straight game, a player stepped up in their place to lead Ohio to a win.

This time it was Javarez “Bean” Willis who provided the heroics for the Bobcats in their 56-54 win over Wright State in the second round of the CIT.

Maurice Ndour and Nick Kellogg combined for only 10 points in the game, but Willis filled their shoes. Willis, who tied his career high with 21 points Saturday, played fearlessly, taking big shots at critical moments, and no shot was bigger than the 3-pointer that he made to put Ohio ahead with just over a minute left.

With Wright State clinging to a 50-48 lead, Willis confidently sized up his man, crossing over and going behind the back in what almost looked like a game of one-on-one. Then he fired up a 3-pointer with a defender draped all over him. Like most of Willis’ shots Saturday, it found the bottom of the net, putting Ohio up 51-50 with 1:02 left in the game.

“That’s a confidence shot,” head coach Jim Christian explained. “That’s not a shot he would have taken three weeks ago. That’s a shot he wouldn’t have taken a week ago, two weeks ago.”

Willis was extremely efficient Saturday. The junior point guard scored his 21 points on 7 of 11 shooting from the field and 5 of 6 from 3-point range.

On the following possession, Travis Wilkins jumped into the passing lane and stole a pass. Then while falling out of bounds, he threw it ahead to Bean Willis, who finished the break with a lay in to put the Bobcats ahead 53-50 with 42 seconds to play.  Treg Setty and Ndour salted the game away with free throws down the stretch.

Despite the fact that it was a low scoring, defensive struggle, the game featured plenty of highlights and big moments. Every time it seemed like a team was going to pull away and take control of the game, the other team bounced right back to keep things close.

It looked like Ohio had all the momentum when Stevie Taylor’s diving steal led to a Kellogg-to-Setty alley-oop lay-in, but the Raiders managed to recapture the momentum and the lead on a 10-0 run that featured eight points from senior forward A.J. Pacher.

“Both teams played unbelievably hard on the defensive end of the floor,” Christian said. “It was just two good defensive teams today playing basketball.”

Pacher threw down a two-handed slam that got Wright State’s bench off its feet. Then two possessions later, the 6-foot-10 forward drained a 3-pointer from the corner directly in front of his bench. Pacher finished the game with a team-high 16 points.

Willis was the only player in double figures for Ohio, but eight different Bobcats scored Saturday with five of them scoring six or more points. Wednesday’s heroes, Setty and Antonio Campbell, both compiled solid efforts despite not blowing up the stat sheet.

Campbell, who played limited minutes due to foul trouble, had eight points, five rebounds and two blocks. When he was on the court, Wright State could not guard him. He used his large frame to his advantage and carved out position down low that allowed him to simply turn and finish when he got the ball.

Setty came off the bench and provided Ohio with his usual non-stop, high-energy play. He had seven points, five rebounds and two assists in the game.

“These games for Treg, for Bean, for [Antonio Campbell], for Mo, they’re games you can take moments and build from,” Christian said.

Ohio got off to a slow start, turning the ball over four times in its first seven possessions. Luckily for the Bobcats, though, Wright State could not capitalize on Ohio’s offensive struggles because the Raiders were equally devoid of offense. The teams shot a combined 15 of 54 in the first half.

Ohio got things turned around offensively throughout the game, improving from 33 percent shooting in the first half to 54.5 percent in the second. Wright State, however, struggled all game, shooting 32.2 percent from the floor and 27.8 percent from 3-point range.

The win over Wright State gives Ohio 25 wins on the season, making it only the third time in school history that a team has had at least 25 wins in a season. It also means that Ohio is moving on to the quarterfinals of the CIT. The date, location and opponent for that game have not been announced yet.

Photos by Kaleb Carter for WOUB Digital.