It's never easy when an arch-rival can hold a five-game winning streak over your head, but it hurts even more to give away number six when victory is just seconds away. Alas, the Miami RedHawks (12-17, 8-10 MAC) found themselves in that position Saturday, falling at home to the Ohio Bobcats (20-10, 11-7 MAC) today 82-76 in overtime.
Senior walk-on Philip Bennett provided Miami with a spark early in the game, diving on a loose ball and forcing a turnover that led to a RedHawk bucket. The momentum eventually led to an 8-3 advantage for Miami, but the Bobcats ability to shoot the three brought them back in a hurry. Led by Nick Kellogg's sharpshooting, Ohio reclaimed the lead and found itself up by five, 23-18, midway through the first half.
As the half wore on, the 3-point shot really was proving to be the difference. Both Miami and Ohio were shooting over 50 percent from the field and both were rebounding at a similar clip, but the Bobcats were five of eight from long range while the RedHawks had made just one of their six attempts. Prior to the game Miami did rank dead-last in the MAC in defending the three, and Ohio (the conference's third-best 3-point shooting team) is the kind of team that can exploit that weakness. To make matters worse, the RedHawks had quite the itchy trigger fingers when it came to shooting threes. An inability to make threes coupled with poor shot selection is, shockingly, not a great recipe for a basketball team.
Despite that, Miami did hang tight in the first twenty minutes, never letting its deficit grow larger than seven points and even tying the game up at 30-30 with less than two minutes remaining. The home squad couldn't quite overtake the Bobcats, though, who took a 37-33 advantage into halftime.
Miami came out firing in the second half, jumping out with a 9-4 run to take a 42-41 lead, its first lead since the 17:45 mark of the first half. Willie Moore, who led all scorers in the first half, was playing at another level to start the second half; Moore assisted on consecutive possessions, one to Quinten Rollins followed by a beautiful full-court pass to Will Sullivan, and followed that up with a rare Miami three. That sequence from Moore put his team ahead by six, 49-43.
The RedHawks really flipped the script in the second half, shooting much better than their counterparts, who really struggled to find success offensively; Ohio started off shooting just one of eight from long range after halftime.
With less than a minute remaining Miami held a two-point lead, 68-66, when Nick Kellogg forced a clutch turnover from Moore. Just seconds later, however, Sullivan stole the ball from Kellogg, leading to an Ohio foul to stop the clock. The RedHawks, one of the best free throw shooting teams in the country, were in a perfect position to ice the game, especially with the way Ohio had been shooting from behind the arc.
But Miami just could not put the game away. Geovonie McKnight stepped up to the line with 20 seconds left and clanked the first free throw, leading to a missed 3-point attempt from Travis Wilkins. The RedHawks grabbed the rebound and another shot sealing the victory, but Rollins missed his free throw, giving Ohio one last chance with just five seconds left. Maurice N'dour got the ball under the basket and laid one in to tie it up at 68-68. Miami turned the ball over on the inbounds pass and Kellogg ended up with it near the sideline but with a foot out of bounds, negating his 3-pointer and sending the game into overtime.
With every possession that passed by in overtime it became clearer and clearer that Miami squandered its lone opportunity to win this game. Down by just one, 71-70, the RedHawks watched Javarez Willis drill a 30-footer to extend Ohio's lead to four and really take Miami out of this game. It was really an ugly final minutes for Miami, riddled with missed free throws and sloppy turnovers. The Bobcats took advantage of their opponent's inability to close and walked away with an 82-76 victory.
Moore led all scorers with a career-high 24 points, but his performance was marred by some seriously poor decision making. N'dour, Willis, and Kellogg led the way for Ohio with 15, 15 and 14 points respectively.
The Ohio win locked up the top six seeds in the upcoming MAC Men's Basketball tournament. By winning Ohio claimed the No. 5 seed, giving the six seed to Eastern Michigan by default. Miami could have locked up the No. 7 seed with a win, but is in serious danger of slipping to the No. 8 seed now. In order to get the seventh seed now Miami needs Northern Illinois to lose Saturday night. The Huskies (13-16, 7-10 MAC) host the last-place Ball State Cardinals (5-23, 2-15 MAC), so the odds aren't in the RedHawks favors.
Ohio will host a home game Monday in round 1 of the 2014 MAC Tournament against either CMU or Ball State, depending on which one winds up finishing last. Miami will also host a home game Monday, but the seeding and opponents are yet to be determined.