Coach Saul Phillips said the first Ohio fans he met upon accepting the Ohio coaching job gave him one objective: beat Miami.
Phillips’ Bobcats haven’t beaten many Mid-American Conference teams this season. But with a 92-87 overtime win Saturday, they proved they could at least still accomplish that goal.
They didn’t accomplish it without hastening the heart rate of every fan at The Convo, however.
With eight seconds remaining and Ohio leading by three — part of the 35-minute chunk it led Saturday — Darrian Ringo dribbled left around a screen from Bam Bowman. Bowman faded behind the 3-point line and Ringo generated an open look for his teammate.
But Bowman’s shot thudded off the left side of the backboard. Just like most of Saturday’s game, the Bobcats gave their rival a chance to fight back. This time, Miami didn’t convert.
Two Jordan Dartis free throws later, the Bobcats won their sixth straight Battle of the Bricks.
“I’m absolutely relieved we won,” Phillips said. “At this point, beggars can’t be choosers. I’ll take what we got.”
Neither Phillips nor his players will find fault with the result. The journey, however?
The Bobcats led by 15 in the second half. They led by 10 with just over four minutes to play.
How did it come to this? Miami shouldn’t have had a chance to tie with seconds remaining. They never should’ve played their eighth overtime period of the season.
But they did.
Leading 76-66 with 4:19 remaining, the Bobcats allowed an 11-2 run over the next three minutes, capped by a Teyvion Kirk turnover that led to the burly Bowman dribbling down the court for a layup to cut the Ohio lead to two with 1:23 remaining.
Kirk turned it over again trying an entry pass to Doug Taylor with 13 seconds remaining. Kirk broke his streak of three straight six-turnover games Saturday, but the few he committed late were his most costly in recent weeks.
Miami called timeout and gave the ball to Ringo. He dribbled to his right. Ohio's bench and fans in The Convo thought he traveled. The refs didn’t call it. Ringo passed the ball to Jalen Adaway, whose 3-pointer bounced off the left rim and then the backboard.
Nike Sibande rebounded the miss and tried to score it in midair. He missed the rim and for a second, the crowd’s cheers drowned out the ref’s whistle.
But the ref kept blowing, fist in the air. Sibande made two free throws to tie. Dartis missed the half-court heave for the win. Overtime.
Were the Bobcats about to let another close game slip away late? They were already 2-6 in games decided by five point or less.
"You can't think like that," Gavin Block said. "I don't think like that."
Late game faux paws plagued Ohio against Central Michigan. And Akron. And Kent State. Ball State and Marshall, too.
Not this time.
After making a 3-pointer with 2:29 remaining Dartis snuck up on Ringo and knocked the ball loose. Block, who came off the bench Saturday for the first time in 56 games, grabbed it and spun away from a defender at the other end before finding Kirk for an open layup to put the Bobcats ahead 86-85.
Kirk’s freshman equivalent, Sibande, made two free throws on the next possession. Kirk took his chance to respond by taking a 3-pointer from the left wing. It missed off the back rim, but James Gollon — somehow — out-jumped the Miami big men to tip the ball to Dartis under the basket for the go-ahead layup. Ohio never relinquished that lead.
In his second career start, Gollon scored seven points and grabbed seven rebounds. But his most important impact came on that play, which won’t be remembered by numbers.
His teammates won’t let him forget it, though.
“I’m definitely gonna let him know,” Dartis said. “The little plays matter. Especially in games like this.”
The game shouldn't have been so close. Dartis and the rest of the non-seniors almost lost to Miami for the first time. Almost.
“We own the rivalry,” Dartis said with a smile. "That’s us. We own it.”
The Bobcats can relax now. They didn’t squander this one away. They executed down the stretch of a close game well enough for the first time in a long time.
So many times this season, The Bobcats. hung around but couldn’t finish. Saturday, they did so against their fiercest rival.
“There’s been so many times the year where I haven’t been overly disappointed with the group, but we couldn’t enjoy it," Phillips said. "This one, we can a little bit.”