OXFORD — A half-hour after his season ended, Mike Laster compared it to a game of cards. The Bobcats were dealt a bad hand.
Their ace, Jason Carter, played just three games thanks to a stress fracture in his leg. Their king of the 3-pointer, Jordan Dartis, grimaced through a yearlong hip injury that he hopes will subside with offseason surgery.
Laster played with risk of re-separating his shoulder, while graduate transfer Kevin Mickle played with a torn meniscus. The list goes on. Yet so did the season and the necessity to use whomever was available.
“We just played our cards,” Laster said.
The Bobcats finally folded Monday, losing 68-55 to Miami in the first round of the Mid-American Conference Tournament. Even in their final game, injury played a role.
With under two minutes to play in the first half, Jordan Dartis front-rimmed a three and rushed back on defense. On his way, Dartis’ feet tangled up in a mix of bodies and he tumbled to the floor, smacking the court in pain. He didn’t return.
The Bobcats continued attempting threes in his absence, hitting just 4-of-23 (17.4 percent) in the game.
“You can’t point fingers and blame it on that,” James Gollon said of Dartis' injury. “We’ve won games with him and we’ve won games without him. It would’ve been nice to have him out there, would’ve been nice to have Jason out there, would’ve been nice to have everybody.”
Injuries have been the unspeakable yet unavoidable cloud hanging over the Bobcats this year. Gollon, Phillips and others held their tongues more than once to avoid the easiest excuse available.
Other frustrations surfaced Monday for Ohio: losing to the rival RedHawks after winning the previous seven, a streak that spanned exactly three years; an 18-point first half, the team's worst this season; and succumbing to defensive pressure that led to its first sub-60 point game in over a month.
But at the end of the game — rather, the season — it’s the accumulation of aches and pains that leave the Bobcats thinking about what might have been.
“If Jason doesn’t get hurt, (freshman forward) Ben (Vander Plas) doesn’t get hurt, my shoulder stays in place, Jordy’s hips stay where they should be, we’re definitely a top-four seed,” Laster said. “But that’s just not the way it played out.”
No one talks about the biggest “injury,” dealt to the Bobcats’ point guard position last spring when Jaaron Simmons transferred to Michigan and forced Phillips to throw two freshmen into the fray.
Phillips saw one of those point guards, Teyvion Kirk, play as both an ace-high and ace-low card through a topsy-turvy freshman year that included the most turnovers in the MAC and a spot on the conference’s All-Freshmen team. The other, Zach Butler, has plenty of room to grow his game in the seasons to come.
And though Ohio’s season just ended, Phillips is already looking forward. He’s excited for Carter to return and be the offensive focal point he should have been this year.
At the same time, Phillips is proud of the group he had this year and what they made of a challenging situation. His first order of business for the offseason? Get everybody healthy.
“The one takeaway I take is we were a tough-minded and physically tough group,” Phillips said. “For the guys that return that’s something to build on … We ended up having to make a lot of reactionary moves this year because of roster limitations and that’s no way to live.”