CLEVELAND — Kenny Kaminski may just be Ohio’s unseen savior.
One could argue Ohio survived Thursday's 67-66 win over Toledo thanks to Jaaron Simmons or Jason Carter.
But with just over seven seconds left in regulation, Kaminski received the ball at the top of the key and drained, in his words, one of the biggest shots of his career.
The shot advanced the Bobcats into the semifinals of the Mid-American Conference Tournament.
“Oh, big time,” Kaminski said of his second game-winning buzzer-beater this season. “Jaaron and I came in three years ago with a dream, and we had promised each other that we're going to do everything we possibly can to get this group of guys in the NCAA tournament.”
After a defensive stop on the other end, Kaminski and Carter embraced as the final buzzer rang hollow in The Q. Ohio advanced to its second-consecutive semifinal appearance — and did so in dramatic fashion.
“It's always been preached to me to trust the process,” Kaminski said.
It’s a fitting narrative for Ohio: Trust.
After Carter — who finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds — split his free throws with 23 seconds left in regulation, the Bobcats’ season was in jeopardy. Ohio had been inconsistent at the free-throw line all season and surrendered a three-point lead with 48 seconds left to play.
But a missed Rockets free throw; then a Simmons drive, pivot, pass; and a Kaminski jump shot later, Ohio recorded one of its best wins this season. The comeback tied for Ohio's biggest of the season, a 15-point comeback at Buffalo. Kaminski hit the game-winning shot in that game, too.
This time around, Simmons said Kaminski — who tends to be a streaky shooter for the Bobcats — promised a make during Ohio’s final timeout.
Of course, Kaminski, the Bobcats’ last-standing senior, delivered on his promise.
“Kenny told me coming out of timeout, he said, 'if you give me the ball, I'll hit this shot,' ” Simmons said. “And he told me that once before at Buffalo, and he obviously didn't lie to me.”
But Kaminski didn’t do it alone. He had only nine points. Rather, it was Simmons and Carter who kept Ohio mostly intact.
Simmons may not have been the MAC Player of the Year, but he certainly disproved of the conference’s pick for the top honor against Toledo.
He had 24 points, four assists and engineered Ohio’s second half come-back with defensive pressure and attacks to the basket.
After a sluggish first half, Simmons ignited a 16-0 run in the early stages of the second half to give Ohio a two-point lead with 16 minutes left in regulation.
Ohio led almost the entirety of the second half until Toledo’s Jonathan Williams’ layup gave the Rockets the lead with 28 seconds left in regulation — the potential end of the Bobcats’ season.
That was until Kaminski released the ball at the left elbow.
“With Kenny, seeing that shot go in, you know, it's been a long journey for Kenny,” Ohio coach Saul Phillips said. “He's grown so much, transformed himself as a person and as a student, and, you know, that doesn't mean you get to have a moment like this. That's not how life works."
“Again, March isn't about fairness,” Phillips continued. “It's making a play, and Kenny made a big play.”