CLEVELAND — Kenny Kaminski walked into the stands and embraced his family. An hour before, he stood on the sideline hugging Jason Carter, screaming with overflowing emotion.
That hug symbolized pride; the other showed relief.
With 7.8 seconds remaining, Kamiski hit the biggest shot of his career. His jumper was a go-ahead shot that ultimately earned Ohio a 67-66 win over Toledo in the Mid-American Conference Tournament quarterfinals at The Q.
“It’s pretty cool to be able to (be) put in a situation like that and get the outcome we did,” Kaminski said after the game.
The outcome extended Ohio’s season, at least to Friday night, when it will play in the semifinals. The outcome also extended Kaminski’s career.
The lone-starting senior for the Bobcats, Kaminski struggled throughout the quarterfinal. He missed Ohio’s first shot, a 3-pointer, and finished 4-of-8 with nine points. But it was enough.
With 22 seconds remaining and the score tied at 65, Toledo’s Steve Taylor Jr. hit a free throw to give the Rockets a one-point lead. At one point in the first half, their lead was as large as 15.
On Ohio’s ensuing possession, Jaaron Simons dribbled across the court with force. The season was slipping away with every second.
But then, Simmons stopped on his pivot foot, trapped, back to the basket. He found Kaminski, who caught the ball at the top of the arch, took a few steps inside the 3-point line and took his shot.
“He had god balance on it,” coach Saul Phillips said. “(His) body was moving toward the rim, and it nestled through that net pretty darn soft.”
While the significance was much higher in Cleveland, it was a moment that felt eerily similar to Ohio’s 74-72 win over Buffalo on Jan. 10. On both occasions the Bobcats trailed by as much as 15, and in each sequence Kaminski delivered the game-winning shot.
But there’s a big difference between a buzzer beater in game three of conference play and the conference quarterfinal. The difference is even bigger in terms of Ohio’s active roster.
When the Bobcats beat the Bulls, they started the MAC 3-0. Four days later they lost Antonio Campbell, the reigning conference player of the year, to a broke right foot.
Against Toledo, Campbell could only offer support from the sideline, cheering on his teammates in a boot.
“It’s always been preached to me to trust the process,” Kaminski said. “It’s really just trust process and just truly believe in myself.
On both occasions, he did. And on both occasions, Ohio reaped the rewards.
But whereas Buffalo was about luck and repetition from practice, Thursday was about survival.
“He said, ‘If you give me the ball, I’ll hit this shot,’ ” Simmons recalled in a conversation with Kaminski with 40 seconds remaining.
“And he told me that once before at Buffalo, and he obviously didn’t lie to me. So once I saw it wasn’t open, I pivoted, hit him, and he hit the shot."