OXFORD — Mike Laster untucked his green No. 24 jersey one last time, eyes focused toward the court as cheers rained down from the Miami crowd at Millett Hall.
Doug Taylor gathered Laster and the three other Bobcats remaining on the floor in a circle, as the clocked ticked off the final seconds of their season. Elsewhere, jubilation was happening around that group of five, the RedHawks bench grabbing each other and leaping up and down just feet away.
Laster and the rest of the Bobcats didn't say a word and instead just looked toward the floor in disgust and sadness as Taylor talked. Ohio's season came down to just five healthy and available bodies on the floor, embracing one another. It was as fitting of an ending as could've happened.
Ohio's season ended in a 68-55 loss to Miami on Monday night in the first round of the Mid-American Conference Tournament after a horrific first half put Ohio in a hole it couldn't recover from.
"I feel like … see, this is what hurts the most, is because I feel like right now we were starting to come together," redshirt sophomore guard James Gollon said. "Now the season is done."
The Bobcats opened the game on a 5-0 run but scored just 13 more points over the final 18 minutes of the first half. The end result was the worst offensive half of the season. After that slow start, the Bobcats had to play catch-up for the second half. They just weren't able to push into the lead.
“We weren’t patient," coach Saul Phillips said of the first half offense. "We didn’t reverse it. I don’t know if we were a little hyped. But certainly when you had so much success off the pass, using curls, that type of thing, it’s disappointing to come out like we did offensively."
And when the Bobcats needed a run near the end of the first half to cut the lead, the opposite happened.
With 1:39 left in the half, junior guard Jordan Dartis got his feet tangled up running back down court and hit the floor, re-injuring his left hip that has plagued him all season.
"I remember looking up at the score and we had like seven at like, the 12 minute mark," Gollon said. "I was like, ‘jeez.’ Then Jordy got hurt.”
After Dartis' injury, the Bobcats bench, already running short with freshman guard Zach Butler fighting the flu, was forced to essentially run a six-man rotation for the rest of the game. Butler registered just five minutes in the second half.
"We couldn’t keep guys fresh with Jordy out," Phillips said. "That was kinda the wave that capsized the boat, so to speak."
Ohio (14-17, 7-12 MAC) cut the lead to as little as six in the second half but couldn't work the lead down any more than that. The Bobcats had their chances to make the comeback, but every time they got close, the RedHawks had an answer.
Miami guard Darrian Ringo tied his career-high in points with 21 and added seven rebounds, too. Nike Sibande added 13 points and nine rebounds.
With Ohio down eight with 12 minutes left, freshman guard Teyvion Kirk was called for a technical foul. He was sentenced to the bench sporadically for the duration, eventually fouling out in the final minutes.
It wasn't Kirk's finest performance, either: He finished just 4-for-14 from the field with 11 points. He also committed three turnovers. But it would be unfair to put the loss on any one player on a night the entire offense struggled.
Ohio's final game of the 2017-18 season ended just as the season has gone: a bad start, hope building and then, ultimately, disappointment.
Jason Carter missed the entirety of conference play, freshman Ben Vander Plas missed the entire season and Dartis and Kevin Mickle were plagued with hip and knee injuries, too.
In the end, just like the injuries, the Bobcats couldn't overcome the obstacles laid out for them. Monday, though, it was their own doing that dug themselves a hole just a little too big.
“I would compare it to playing cards and you just being dealt a bad hand," Laster said. "And really just doing what you can and almost winning, actually. And actually not doing as bad as you thought you would once we got our hand. We just played our cards.”