Jason Carter walked into the press conference and lowered his head.
Five minutes removed from the best night of his career — 20 points and seven rebounds in only his second start — Carter sat silently, frustrated with the only shot he’ll remember in Tuesday evening’s 79-76 loss to Toledo in The Convo.
With seven seconds remaining and midway through a broken play, Carter managed to slip free of his man and stood alone behind the 3-point line. His shot clanked off the back of the rim. The Bobcats never took another attempt.
“I just gotta get over it,” Carter said. “I can’t let it hang over me.”
Then Jaaron Simmons spoke up.
“He’ll make the next one.”
The rapid response offered another anecdote between Carter, who’s still trying to adjust to the college game, and his teammates and coaches quickly coming to his support.
In reality, it’s been Carter who’s had to come to the aid of his team.
Ten games ago, Ohio was destined for NCAA Tournament talk and had a healthy Antonio Campbell, the reigning Mid-American Conference Player of the Year. But after Campbell broke his foot, Carter has been tasked to fill an unfillable role.
In the four games since Carter has replaced Campbell, he’s averaged 14.3 points and 9.5 rebounds, an impressive feat for someone who entered the Toledo game averaging 6.4 points and five rebounds per game all season. When asked to step up, he has.
Against the Rockets, he looked calm from the start. Despite his patient play, his quick feet allowed him to slip through the lane and create mismatches against players who are statistically better than Carter, a freshman.
Though his main opponent, Steve Taylor Jr., finished with a game-high 25 points and 15 rebounds, Carter looked comfortable and confident in the matchup, which was noticeably different from sophomore backup Doug Taylor. The latter had five points and five rebounds all of which came in the first half.
Given a short window to mature, Carter is proving that he’s developing into one of the better forwards in the conference.
Perhaps the most gratifying compliment came from Simmons, who promised Carter will someday be the MAC player of the year.
“Jaaron doesn’t throw compliments around very easily,” coach Saul Phillips said of Simmon’s praise. “You gotta earn his respect.”
Phillips was pleased with his team and his starting center, citing the positivity of the final possessions of the game moving forward.
Simmons missed a floater with 20 seconds remaining that would’ve tied the game at 78, but a missed shot and a Toledo free throw set the scene for Carter’s final shot.
“Let’s worry about getting his spirits up,” Phillips said. “You ask him and he’d probably tell you ‘I blew the game.’ That’s how he thinks. … I gotta make sure he doesn’t get sideways.”
With 11 games left in the regular season, Carter isn’t filling box scores with Campbell-like numbers, but he’s playing well enough to not be a scapegoat for Ohio’s recent form.
The Bobcats have dropped three of their last four games, a worrisome sign for a team fearful of spiraling out of conference championship contention.
But the glowing positive amidst the confusion comes from the new-found Simmons-Carter duo: the one unhinged part of an interchangeable team.
"Last year Jason was playing against 6-foot guys,” Phillips joked about Carter’s rapid growth. “It’s different now.”