TOLEDO — Kevin Mickle came off the bench, as he has all but twice this year, with an urgency to heave the Bobcats out of the 15-point hole they’d created in the game’s first five minutes.
First he sank a 3-pointer, just his fourth all season. Then he flushed a fast-break windmill dunk, followed by a layup, a put-back and a mid-range jumper.
In two and a half minutes, he scored 11 straight points for Ohio. In the end, he finished with a career-high 24 in the Bobcats’ 82-74 loss to the Rockets on Tuesday night.
“He’s feeling healthier,” coach Saul Phillips said. “It’s a simple matter.”
Mickle’s right knee, the one he injured way back Nov. 19 against Indiana State, the one consumed by a brace every time he’s on the court and wrapped in ice every time afterward, didn’t put the brakes on him against Toledo.
He knifed through the lane on drives to the basket, leapt to full extension for rebounds and pivoted sharply on post moves. His final line included 10-of-19 shooting with six rebounds, two blocks and an assist.
Mickle’s early 11-point burst helped pull Ohio back into the game. He did it again with 12 minutes to go, starting a fast break that led to a layup and adding two baskets of his own in a 9-0 run that cut a 17-point deficit down to eight.
During a season in which Ohio has a new or worsening injury by the week — if not by the game — Mickle’s breakout performance sheds positive light on the team’s ninth loss in its past 11 games.
And for Mickle, a graduate transfer from Florida Gulf Coast, this final season is as much a chance to showcase his abilities for a post-college career as it is an opportunity to make the Bobcats better right now.
“That’s not the main goal, to show them I can play injured,” he said. “I just want to take my shots in certain spots and show I have certain moves and a certain arsenal.”
The balance of focusing on the rest of this season as well as what lies ahead is something that requires day-to-day thinking, he said. When he’s having an off night, he won’t force shots in an attempt to pad his own stat line.
Treating his knee requires daily consideration, too. It won’t be possible for him to fully trust it until after the season, when he’s set to have surgery on the meniscus.
In the meantime, Mickle will treat his injury with care, under the guidance of Ohio’s training staff. The plan heading into Tuesday night worked.
Mickle sat out Feb. 3 against Central Michigan, as well as the next two practices. He had plenty of rest, used crutches, had the fluid from his knee drained and took a cortisone shot.
Some days his knee will feel better than others. But what encouraged Mickle against Toledo was his ability to “hop middle,” a maneuver in which he plants on both feet near the basket and turns one way for a shot — the same play that caused his injury in November.
Being able to make those types of moves, showing off the quickness and athleticism of his 6-foot-7, 220-pound body, will help him achieve his goal of playing professional basketball.
But as he and his coach insist, his mind hasn’t traveled that far yet. After all, the Bobcats still have five games to go and a chance at a tournament bid.
“You get to a point in your senior year when you realize, ‘I got (only) so many games left,’” Phillips said. “‘And regardless of what comes next, I want to get everything I can out of this.’ I think that’s where he’s at right now.”