All Mark Sears needed was five seconds to secure Ohio's last-second victory over Rice.
In the 38 minutes he spent on the court Saturday night, the sophomore had been uncharacteristically quiet. He's been Ohio's de facto commander on the floor and led the team in scoring all season. It became routine for the point guard to set new career highs for scoring as games on Ohio's schedule came and went.
On Saturday, however, Sears didn't even crack double figures.
But on Ohio's final possession, Sears pushed that thought out of his mind. What mattered was the time he had left. Ohio trailed Rice by a point, and Sears knew the final five seconds on the clock were all he needed.
As the final seconds ticked down, Sears sprinted across the court after receiving an inbound pass and shifted toward the right side of the paint to attempt a layup. He leaped into the air and collided in mid-jump with Rice forward Max Fiedler. As Sears descended, he launched the ball from his left hand and watched it bounce off the backboard.
Sears' shot fell through the net as the final buzzer sounded. The Bobcats swarmed the court and mobbed Sears as they celebrated their 65-64 win over Rice in the first round of the College Basketball Invitational.
"I just wanted to get it down fast and try and go by my man," Sears said. "All I had to worry about was trying to make an acrobatic layup over their 6-11."
Sears' game-winning layup was Ohio's final desperate attempt to salvage the win. The Bobcats had been trading blows with the Owls in the waning minutes of the game. Four lead changes in the final two minutes kept the Bobcats on their heels. The Owls snatched a late lead after Carl Pierre capitalized on a turnover and knocked down a two-point jumper.
Although Sears saved the game, Ohio put itself in that position. Its plan from tipoff had been to shut Rice down beyond the arc. The Owls rank 28th in the NCAA when shooting from 3-point range, and the Bobcats were well aware of that fact. They devised a defensive plan to counteract that 3-point dominance that proved flawless in the opening stretch. Rice sputtered beyond the arc before the break. Ohio built up a comfortable lead in the meantime and coasted to a double-digit lead midway through the first half.
That comfort didn't last.
As Ohio's lead grew, it slacked on defense. Rice began to capitalize on open looks and hammered away in the paint to score 20 points in the final eight minutes of the first half. Ohio opened the door and Rice walked right through.
"We tried to pay attention to the 3s, and I thought we did a really good job of taking those away," Ohio coach Jeff Boals said. "You take away something you're going to give up something. Give them credit, they made some plays."
The Bobcats never felt comfortable after halftime. The Owls had been given an inch and took a mile. They harassed the Bobcats on the boards and swiped bad passes to convert for easy points. The rigid defense that strangled the Owls after tipoff vanished into thin air.
Ohio had been the heavy favorite ahead of Saturday. It was the No. 3 seeded team in the CBI, and Rice was a meager No. 14 seed. Ohio struggled down the final stretch of its Mid-American Conference schedule and bowed out in the MAC Tournament semifinals, but Rice ended the season with a losing conference record.
Still, the Bobcats got their money's worth. The Owls hounded them throughout the second half and came within five seconds of knocking the Bobcats out in the first round.
But those five seconds were all Sears needed to keep Ohio in the postseason picture.