The Ohio Bobcats seem to have this innate ability to survive and advance. They've been doing it all season. Lost four of the best players in program history? Respond by making it to the MAC Tournament quarterfinals. Lose a senior leader midway through the year to a fractured leg? Have a bench player step up and become one of the team's most valuable pieces. Have another senior leader quit just days before the first round of the 2014 CollegeInsider.com Tournament? Have a freshman big step up and carry your team to victory.
Those are just some of the things Ohio has dealt with, and overcome, this season. Saturday afternoon in Athens the Bobcats overcame another roadblock, the worst start to a game this season scoring just 20 points in the first half, and came back to bear in-state rival Wright State 56-54 and advance to the CIT quarterfinals.
Survive, and advance.
With regular season starting point guard Stevie Taylor still battling a lower leg injury and seeing severely reduced minutes, Texas Tech-transfer Javarez Willis put the team on his shoulder and carried the 'Cats to victory behind a career-high 21 points, as the only Ohio player to score in double-digits. Willis was 7-for-11 from the field, including a blistering 5-for-6 from deep and carried a Bobcats offense that shot just 37 percent without Willis.
It was another impressive show of resilience from a team that trailed by as much as many as five in the second half of a low-scoring affair.
Ohio started off sloppy against the Raiders defense, coughing the rock up 14 times overall including four in the early minutes. Six minutes in Wright State led the 'Cats 13-2. It looked like disaster was in toe for the team dubbed the "Cardiac 'Cats". But behind three consecutive Willis' 3-pointers down the final stretch of the first half, and their own increased defensive pressure Ohio entered the half trailing by just one point, 21-20.
Familiar offensive stars like Maurice Ndour and Nick Kellogg were struggling to knock down shots, combining to go 4-for-16 for 10 points in the game. The previous game's star, forward Antonio Campbell was efficient from the floor and a beat in the defensive glass, swatting a pair of shots and pulling down five defensive rebounds, but early foul trouble limited his offensive impact.
AJ Pacher and Matt Vest were outdueling Willis, as the two Raiders were each converting buckets at a high-efficiency. The duo finished the game with 16 and 13 points respectively.
But Willis was hotter. As the game wore on the 'Cats made things more difficult for Vest and Pacher, while the Raiders had no answers for Willis who scored 15 points behind the arc. The man they call "Bean" scored five points in a 20-second stretch in the final minute to give Ohio a lead that it didn't relinquish as the final seconds ticked away.
The win also gives the Bobcats 25 in a season for the fifth time in program history.
Ohio has moved on to the 2014 CIT quarterfinals and will face a yet to be determined opponent sometime next week. The information will be out after Round 2 is complete.