As good as the Bobcats have been at home this season, playing another game at The Convo is the last thing on the team’s mind heading into the regular-season finale at Miami.
Ohio needed a win against Kent State Wednesday and a win from first-place Akron to lock up a triple bye in the upcoming Mid-American Conference tournament, but the Bobcats had no shimmer in a loss to the Golden Flashes, and the Zips fell at home for the first time in conference play.
That leaves Ohio (23-7, 10-5 MAC) on unstable ground in its search for a tournament bye. With a win against Miami on Friday, the team will wrap up at least a double bye and will have a shot at the elusive three-round free pass with some outside help.
But if Eastern Michigan and Kent State win their final games and the Bobcats lose to the RedHawks, Ohio will fall to fifth in the MAC, will not clinch a bye, and will instead return to The Convo on Monday to open the conference tournament against Northern Illinois.
But the Battle of the Bricks requires no extra motivation, coach John Groce said, adding that his team can take care of business simply by winning.
“I won’t talk much about seeding and standings because that stuff takes care of itself, but they’ll know. Kids are kids, they’ll look and it is what it is,” he said.
“Hopefully, it will inspire us to play harder and better than we did (Wednesday) on Friday.”
Both teams have high expectations for the final game of the season. The Miami faithful will bid adieu to seniors Julian Mavunga and Adam Thomas, and possibly to 16-year head coach Charlie Coles, who has hinted that he is considering retirement and was hospitalized for observation last weekend. He has since been released and will coach the RedHawks from the sideline Friday.
“It’s certainly bittersweet if in fact it’s his last game at Millett (Hall),” said associate head coach Jermaine Henderson, who has played for and coached with Coles during Coles’ entire tenure as head coach at Miami.
“The bitterness, of course, is that you won’t have that wealth of knowledge any longer. When you look at the sweet part about it, he’s had it for a long time. He’s done a tremendous amount for Miami basketball, Miami University and the students that come through it.”
The RedHawks (9-19, 5-10 MAC) have struggled for much of the year but have shown promise at times. They fell to lowly Northern Illinois earlier during the conference season but also upset Buffalo and gave Ohio a healthy scare in front of a full house at The Convo. Three of Miami’s five conference wins came against teams in the top five in the MAC standings.
Ohio has had little time to make adjustments since Wednesday’s setback. The Bobcats will play their third game in six days Friday night, and they will need better ball control from their forwards to secure a win on the road.
“(Reggie) Keely and (Ivo) Baltic need to be better, and they can’t get their ball taken,” Groce said. “They’ve got to be stronger with the ball. Both those guys know that.”