Teyvion Kirk corralled the rebound from Miami’s final, failed shot and wrapped it close in his arms. He wasn’t giving the ball away this time.

On the other end of the court, he made both free throws. Seconds later, the sound of the buzzer capped a 92-87 overtime win Saturday for Kirk and the Bobcats. A win they should’ve had in regulation. Kirk, more than anyone, knew that.

It was Kirk who, after committing 18 turnovers the previous three games, stumbled once more with a pair of giveaways in the final 90 seconds of the second half. He looked every bit the freshman guard he is.

But Kirk isn’t a deer-in-the-headlights freshman, the type that dwells on mistakes and stiffens when adversity strikes. 

“A lot of times it’s typical for people just to cradle up in a shell and not be aggressive when they turn the ball over,” he said. “But it’s gonna mess up your game.”

His game, with big numbers in shots, points and turnovers, was on full display against the RedHawks. Coach Saul Phillips knows what Kirk can do — both the good and the bad — and that typically the former outweighs the latter.

“He’s got that gene where if he makes a mistake, he usually makes a play to atone for it fairly shortly thereafter,” Phillips said.

The mistakes occurred twice. 

With 1:25 left in regulation and Ohio leading by three, Kirk stared down his target on a bounce pass near midcourt. The ball was swiped by RedHawk forward Bam Bowman, who then lumbered past Kirk for a layup.

Two Ohio possessions later, Phillips called a timeout with his team leading by two. He put the ball back in Kirk’s hands in a half court set. Kirk lobbed a pass into the key for Doug Taylor, but it was intercepted by Miami’s Jalen Adaway, which set up the tying free throws on the ensuing possession.

Kirk immediately hit the mental reset button. In Ohio’s last extended game, a double-OT loss to Central Michigan, he’d fouled out and had been forced to watch from the bench. This time, he had a say in how the game would end.

“After having those late turnovers in regulation, I was like, ‘We gotta win this one,’ ” Kirk said.

The RedHawks jumped out to a four-point lead, but Kirk was part of the surge to bring the Bobcats back. He finished on a fast break layup to put Ohio up 86-85, its first lead of the extra period.

Then with 22 seconds left and the Bobcats still clinging to a one-point edge, Kirk stood in front of Miami guard Darrian Ringo, who was driving to the basket, and slapped the ball out of bounds off Ringo’s knee. 

Kirk added two security free throws with one second left for good measure, but the defensive stop was what truly sealed the win. His turnovers no longer mattered.

“That’s TK for you right there,” teammate Gavin Block said. “Forget about the next play and move on.”

It’s not just about Kirk moving on, though. It’s about Phillips and the rest of the team moving on with him. The confidence Phillips shows in Kirk — to play a game-high 44 minutes, take a team-high 15 shots and rack up an absurd 22 turnovers over the past four games — isn’t lost on the young guard.

“They don’t understand how long that goes (with me) because it’s so easy just to give up on somebody, you know?” Kirk said. “So them just continuing to trust in me only helps me play better and keeps my confidence up for sure.”

Saturday was Kirk’s first crack at the “Battle of the Bricks” rivalry game. It almost didn’t happen, as he flipped his commitment 10 months ago from Drake to Ohio.

Now that Kirk is in Athens, fans should expect him to inject three-plus years worth of fun, aggression, recklessness and trash talk to a century-long rivalry that has staled recently. 

He’ll play across from Jeff Rutter, a former Drake assistant who helped recruit Kirk, who is now on the Miami staff. Rutter winked at Kirk during one of the timeouts and the pair chatted afterward. 

Oh, and both Kirk and Miami freshman Nike Sibande lead their respective teams in scoring, which suggests this rivalry is shaping up to enter an interesting era once more.

For the Bobcats, the focus is on Kirk and his development more so than his role in the rivalry. Saturday was another reminder that he belongs.

“I know this: The kid is a winner,” Phillips said. “He’s going to continue to be in big situations and he’s only going to get better with it.”



Comments powered by Disqus