OXFORD — Mike Laster waved for his teammates to clear out, slapped away his defender’s hand and started a drive to the basket. As the shot clock drained to six, in the final minute of the game, his drive to the net finished the same as his final regular season game — strong.
Laster had his senior night three nights before, recording a career-high seven assists in a win at The Convo Friday. He spoiled the RedHawks’ celebration with a team-high 22 points, including the clinching basket.
“He’s playing like he doesn’t wanna be done,” coach Saul Phillips said after Ohio’s 75-66 win over Miami. “That’s a neat place to be.”
The game, much like the Feb. 17 matchup that Ohio won overtime, was a tossup most of the way. Thirteen ties. Sixteen lead changes. Zero double-digit leads.
So with Ohio (14-16, 7-11 Mid-American Conference) up six in the final minute, Laster knew he had to make the possession count. The Bobcats had missed 11 of their previous 13 shots, floundering to the finish line after shooting comfortably above 50 percent the whole way.
Laster waited for the space he wanted and took one dribble right. He crossed over through his legs, gained a step on his defender and heaved the ball up off the rim and in. Laster was fouled on Ohio’s next possession and split his free throw attempts, which was enough to quash a comeback.
He’d attacked all game, tying his season-high with 10 field goals on 17 shots. Increased ball movement, something Phillips has emphasized with his offense in recent weeks, helped players like Laster slash through the middle and score near the rim.
“It just seemed like the rim was getting wider for me,” Laster said.
Somehow, Laster is part of Ohio’s only class to lose to Miami. In his freshman year, the Bobcats lost on Valentines Day — they haven’t lost to their archrival since.
“Man, that’s seven times in a row,” Laster said, eyes wide.
He may have a shot to go for eight in a row, in the MAC Tournament, depending how the Central Michigan/Western Michigan game ends. Those teams play at 11 a.m. on Saturday because a shooting Friday morning in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, forced a postponement.
If the Chippewas lose, Ohio plays at Bowling Green as the nine-seed. If they win, Ohio comes back to Millett Hall to face Miami as the 10-seed.
Entering the do-or-die tournament, any game could be the end of Laster’s career. He just doesn’t want to think about that.
“I’m not even getting into a losing mindset,” he said. “Just going in every game expecting to win and do everything I can to help us win.”
Laster’s run in the rivalry could be over, and if so, it ends on a high note. But at the very least, if Friday was his last crack at the RedHawks, he did what he could to put a dent in their senior night.
After the game, as Ohio players showered and headed to the bus, Miami marched its two seniors to center court for family photos and jersey presentations. It felt out of place, almost awkward, after a loss.
Laster, a key contributor to that awkwardness, had had his ceremony pregame at The Convo. Asked about what it would feel like to do it the way Miami did, especially after a loss, he hardly entertained the idea.
“Honestly, I wasn’t trying to lose on my senior night,” Laster said. “So that just wasn’t really a question.”