Tuesday brought a first for Ohio in 2018: consecutive wins.
The Bobcats hadn’t won back-to-back games since the end of December — and they hadn’t beaten two straight NCAA Division I opponents since November. It’s been that kind of season for the Bobcats, who’ve failed to gain traction of any sort.
Until now, perhaps.
After allowing Kent State to come back within two, the Bobcats rode a 12-point run to win, 88-76, Tuesday night at The Convo.
“It’s perfect because we’re putting together a few wins late in conference,” guard Teyvion Kirk said. “Use this momentum as a boost in March, so we can get some wins and win the (Mid-American Conference) Championship.”
Ohio (12-15, 5-10 MAC) is still a good distance away from entering championship conversation, wedged into a four-way tie for ninth in the mangled MAC standings. Beating Kent State allowed merely another step forward, building off a five-point win over rival Miami on Saturday.
And yet, Tuesday’s game almost went in a devastating direction. With 12:51 left, a stunned Gavin Block sat on the floor looking at his right hand.
One of his fingers was bent backward and out of place. Ohio certainly didn’t need to lose another rotation player to injury.
“It was pretty gross,” Dartis said. “I saw from a distance and kept my comments to myself on that one.”
A minute later, Block was back from the tunnel with black tape holding together his middle and index fingers. He entered the game with 9:12 to go, after Kent State cut Ohio’s lead down from 11 to two.
“Gavin Block is one tough hombre,” coach Saul Phillips said. “So I knew he’d be back in.”
Block took the ball in the post right away and banked it in. It was his only basket, but it began the 12-0 run that separated Ohio for good.
Kirk followed with eight straight points, including a notable near miss on a dunk attempt against Kent State forward Adonis De La Rosa. Kirk is 6-foot-3, a solid nine inches shorter than De La Rosa — but that didn’t stop the freshman guard from trying.
Or gaining appreciation from his coach.
“You know what (Kirk) was thinking?” Phillips said. “I’m gonna dunk on the world if they’ll let me. That really embodies his personality. There is no issue that he sees that he thinks he can’t attack.”
Kirk made the ensuing free throws, then later capped his mini-run with an uncontested, two-handed slam.
The Bobcats held the Golden Flashes nearly three minutes without points during the run and never allowed them within five points the rest of the game.
Block’s return and Kirk’s point streak highlighted the evening, but Tuesday’s effort was a wholesome one for the Bobcats. Six players finished in double figures — after five did so against Miami the other night — and the team committed just one turnover in the final six minutes.
“All of a sudden, we got super efficient offensively,” Phillips said. “Guys didn’t try to do things on their own. We scored off the pass, made good cuts.”
That selfless, motion-based offense is what Phillips has looked for all year. He sees it more often in practice, but recently it has translated to game nights.
With the MAC Tournament just under two weeks away, potential still exists for tournament seeding shakeups. Phillips, along with some of the players, claim they aren’t looking at that right now.
What matters to them is finishing strong — the way they did against Kent State and the way they hope to finish out the season.
“If we’re playing well, send us anywhere,” Phillips said. “We’ll go anywhere and do anything. We don’t care.”