In a game surrounded by pre-game disappointment, somehow the Ohio Bobcats found a will, and a way to pull out a close battle at home in the first round of the 2014 CollegeInsider.com Tournament.
Just days before Wednesday night's game senior center Jon Smith unceremoniously left the team, leaving a void in the frontcourt. Freshman big Antonio Campbell answered the call, exploding for 19 points in the second half and draining a pair of free throws in the final seconds to give the ‘Cats a 64-62 win and a ticket to the second round.
"Every dog has his day, and he had his day," Cleveland State head coach Gary Waters said after the game.
Campbell finished the game 6-for-11 from the field, and shot 90 percent from the charity stripe to push the ‘Cats to a victory. Fellow forward Treg Setty pitched in, adding 13 points to help Ohio dispatch Cleveland State's bigs.
"Antonio Campbell grew as a player today. Treg Setty grew today. That's why these games are so important. Not only are we representing our league...we're giving these players a chance to grow," Ohio head coach Jim Christian said in the post-game presser.
The game started off bad for Ohio, as the ‘Cats bigs, without Smith, struggled to contain the Cleveland State bigs. Forward Anton Grady pummeled Ohio inside in the first 10 or so minutes of the first half, racking up 10 points and schooling Bobcats freshman center Wadly Mompremier. The 6-foot-10 inch big received serious minutes early in the first half, racking up four minutes by the under eight media timeout, but he was clearly outmatched and confused on the floor.
To make matters worse, Ohio's starting five, including All-MAC players Nick Kellog and Maurice Ndour, combined for just 10 points in the first 12 minutes of action. The Bobcats were in trouble; the Vikings were draining over 52 percent of their shots and the ball wasn't flowing for Ohio.
Then Setty stepped up. The sophomore scored nine in the final eight minutes of action, as Grady was shutdown. Ohio entered halftime up 32-31.
The second half started off much different, as the teams fought back and forth and a ignited Campbell took over while Grady, marred in foul trouble, failed to score again in the final 28 minutes of action.
Second-team All-Horizon League guard Bryn Forbes lit up in the second half, scoring 12 of his 20 total points in the final stanza, going 7-for-12 from the field and adding nine boards, but it wasn't enough. The teams kept trading blows, but in the final seconds of the game, Ohio, which had been drawing contact at a much higher rate (21 free throw attempts to just 10) were able to nudge out a lead in the final seconds and take the win.
It was an impressive show of resilience from a team that dealt with the loss of its best defender and subpar performances from Ndour and Kellogg, who combined for just nine points (though Ndour added nine boards to the mix as well). The team known for overcoming adversity all season did it again.
Christian brought up his team's efforts, saying, "this is without question the toughest group of guys I've ever coached." He admired the team's resiliency in this game and compared it to previous triumphs over adversity such as the numerous injuries that have plagued the team all season.
With the win the ‘Cats advance on to the second round of the CIT and will face IPFW in Athens on Saturday at 2 p.m. The Mastodons downed Akron 97-91 Wednesday night.
Side note: Christian confirmed Smith is no longer with the team and will not come back, saying, "Jon has not violated any team policy or university policy...he made a decision by himself to not play anymore, and I wish him well."