The Bobcats needed a break after the Gildan Charleston classic.
They played three games in four days, including a quadruple overtime game that wore on their legs and claimed Kevin Mickle as the newest name on the already long list of injuries.
In Friday night’s 96-77 win over Mount St. Mary’s, however, it didn't matter that the Bobcats had just seven of their usual rotation players. It didn't matter that Zach Butler and James Gollon, the two healthy bench minute-earners, had struggled early in the season. And it didn’t matter that Doug Taylor was the only healthy Bobcat tall enough to play center.
Despite facing an unprecedented amount of adversity, the Bobcats played their best game of the season at The Convo on Friday night. The game featured five double figure scorers and a shining moment for nearly every Bobcat involved.
“This is how we wanna play,” coach Saul Phillips said. “So many of our assists came as a jump stop, a ball fake and patience. That’s basketball that translates to whoever you play against.”
The 19 assists Ohio tallied Friday translated to its best offensive performance of the season. The team shot 50 percent from the field for the first time all season, and scored as many points as they had since Jan. 28 of last season.
The game was under control for much of the second half largely thanks to the second straight 20-point game from Mike Laster, who Phillips said was the best player on the court for the second game in a row. Laster drove to the rim and used his length to change the release point of his floaters repeatedly over the flailing arms of defenders.
Taylor put one of the finishing touches on Mount St. Mary’s when he hit a face up jumper with 4:59 remaining to extend the Bobcat lead to 18. He even opened the scoring Friday night with a corner 3-pointer, just the 2nd of his career. More importantly, Taylor only recorded three fouls in 26 minutes of play, his most important job as the only healthy true front court player.
Teyvion Kirk made the first two 3-pointers of his college career as well, en route to a 20-point, five-rebound and six-assist performance. The 20 points marked his fifth straight double-digit scoring performance to start his career.
Gollon and Butler, who had both struggled heading into Friday’s game, got the confidence boosts they needed. Butler from his first career double-digit scoring performance, Gollon from his between the legs cross over that sent his defender stumbling to the right followed by a smooth left-handed layup at the rim.
Gollon added four assists to his six points and Butler added a pair of assists and rebounds to his 12. Even Sam Frayer brought the fans at the Convo to their feet with a fadeaway jump during the final minute.
The Bobcats were supposedly limited Friday night. But thanks to the sum of the parts that remained, they overpowered an NCAA Tournament team from a season ago.
Friday’s win was a special kind of fun. The kind of fun that reminded Taylor why he loves basketball.
“It’s why we play,” Taylor said. “To be in the camaraderie on and off the floor. Everybody eats, it’s Thanksgiving.”
Ohio got the break it needed Friday night. It won by its largest margin of the season and it made it look easy. The walk-ons saw minutes and Saul Phillips managed the time masterfully to avoid anyone not named Laster more than 34 minutes.
All seven rotation players scored at least six points — a great sign for the near future. But it’s an even better sign for the long-term outlook.
Jason Carter will return at some point. He has an X-ray scheduled soon to update his progress. Phillips hopes to have Mickle back Tuesday against Iona. Ben Vader Plas and AJ Gareri haven't played a game in an Ohio uniform yet.
Friday’s performance against Mount St. Mary’s was necessary. But once the Bobcats are at full strength, it will be gravy.
“We’re gonna be whole again at some point as a group,” Phillips said. “To have more guys that we can lean on in tough situations is gonna be huge.”