Bob Boldon needed a moment.
Ohio players and coaches emerged from the locker room with tears in their eyes after their 70-66 win Wednesday over Miami inside Millett Hall. Some players wiped their eyes with their jerseys and walked back to the court to greet family and friends, but Boldon couldn’t follow them yet.
The coach walked back into the locker room where, seconds earlier, he emotionally thanked his players and staff. They delivered one of the most important wins he’ll ever need.
Boldon missed the funeral of his grandfather, who died last week, to be with Ohio for its game. He attended calling hours Tuesday night and met the team separately in Oxford on Wednesday morning less than eight hours before tip-off.
“It was hard,” he said with a cracked voice and tears in his eyes. “It's been a tough couple of days. I think it's something my family, my grandpa specifically, would be very proud of.”
Boldon became the winningest coach in program history with the win, his 124th since arriving in Athens in 2013. The Bobcats also clinched a first-round bye in the Mid-American Conference Tournament and punched their ticket for at least one game in Cleveland.
The Bobcats entered Wednesday trying to snap a four-game losing streak to the RedHawks and exorcise their frustrations against their biggest rival, who handed Ohio a crushing 67-61 defeat Jan. 30 in The Convo.
But when the Bobcats arrived in Oxford on Tuesday night without their coach, the rematch became much more personal.
“We play for a lot of reasons,” Erica Johnson said. “We all are so very close. When one person is hurt, we're all hurt.”
Ohio blew a 23-point halftime lead in the fourth quarter when Savannah Kluesner made a layup that cut the deficit to one point with five minutes left. The Millett Hall crowd was in a frenzy, and Ohio needed one final energy push to hang on.
The motivation, however, stood on the Bobcats’ sideline the whole game. Players huddled around Boldon after he called a timeout to strategize the final minutes, but Ohio never doubted its ability to win for their coach.
His sacrifice meant the most. His record and the first-round bye came next.
The Bobcats never lost their lead despite two 3s from Miami in the final 20 seconds, and Ohio added another storybook win to its beloved coach’s legacy.
“It was certainly a milestone type of win,” Boldon said. “But these kids, they care.”
When Boldon couldn’t be with his family in one of its toughest times, the family he made with Ohio pulled through. Marwan Miller, an assistant coach, had the team film session ready when Boldon arrived in Oxford. Tia Jameson handled Ohio’s travel arrangements, and the rest of his assistants completed final preparations ahead of tipoff.
It’s why Boldon choked up when he addressed Ohio after the game. It’s why he only talked about the people around him — and rarely about himself — when he reflected on his six historic years with the Bobcats. It’s why he said he has no aspirations for leaving Athens if a bigger coaching gig presents itself in the future.
Boldon couldn’t ask for anything better. The emotional win over Miami symbolized that.
“You know, you hear people talk about their staffs occasionally, but you can't do this without a good staff,” he said. “You can't dismiss the value of your staff and your support system. For me, it's my family.”