ATHENS, Ohio -- A team on a roll met a team desperately trying to fill some roles Saturday at the Convocation Center. When the final horn sounded, the team on a roll prevailed as Ohio University knocked off rival Miami, 76-64.
Ohio redshirt sophomore guard Jaaron Simmons led all scorers with 25 points, connecting on 8-of-9 from the field overall, 3-of-4 from distance and 6-of-6 at the line.
"He had a look in his eye.,” Ohio head coach Saul Phillips said. “My dad even pointed it out. He had a look in his eye yesterday and . . .
Among the other Bobcats, Antonio Campbell scored 16 points and grabbed 20 rebounds, nearly matching the RedHawks total of 24 boards. Freshman Gavin Block also reached double figures with 14 points – a dozen in the first half.
It was the fifth straight victory and seventh in eight games for Ohio, arguably the hottest team in the Mid-American Conference right now. Coupled with Kent State’s win over Akron Friday night, the Bobcats (18-8, 9-5 MAC) are tied for second (with KSU) in the MAC East -- one game behind Akron.
Miami (9-18, 3-11 MAC) is at the other end of the standings and dropped its third straight game. But while this one ended up in double digits, there was a bit more drama – on several levels.
The RedHawks, already battling injuries, announced Friday that four players would be serving one-game suspensions against Ohio for “a violation of team rules.” Among them was senior starter Geovonie McKnight, the second-leading scorer (12.6 ppg) on a team that struggles mightily on offense (last among MAC teams in points, field goal percentage and 3-point goal percentage).
The list also included two other guards – senior Willie Moore and sophomore Ali Barnes – as well as forward Jere Vucica, who has not seen action since an injury in late November.
Along with the injuries, it left Miami with seven scholarship players and two walk-ons. The guard position was particularly thin.
Miami made its first two shots for its only leads of the game (3-0 and 5-2). The Bobcats then ran off 17 straight points for a commanding 19-5 lead before MU could regroup. The two teams battled on fairly even terms from there until halftime, when Ohio took a 41-24 lead to the locker room.
"In a game that Miami was facing some major constraints, it shrunk the game down,” Phillips said. “It was a lower possession game. In the first half we scored 41 points on 28 possessions which is a really high number, and it felt like we weren't doing anything. It's hard to cause separation when a team goes that deep in the shot clock, and it's exactly what they needed to do, and I figured they would do it."
That deficit might have looked even more foreboding given Miami has recently started slowing after intermission. Indeed, a quick 6-0 run, along with four Miami fouls in less than three minutes, gave Ohio a 23-point advantage (47-24) with with 17:12 remaining.
The route appeared to be on, but the RedHawks, who once trailed Toledo by 56 points in the second half several weeks ago, refused to roll over. Sophomore guards Abdoulaye Harouna and Dion Wade were part of a 25-7 Miami run that pulled the visitors within five points (54-49) after a Hourouna trey from near the top of the key with 8:02 remaining.
Freshman Jordan Dartis hit a trey from the corner for Ohio and Kalif Wright scored down low to make it a six point game. The Bobcats then doubled their advantage with a combined six points from Campbell and Dartis.
A Wade bucket and Harouna free throw brought the lead down to single digits (54-63) a final time with 2:32 remaining. However, Ohio used eight free throws and a Simmons basket to fend off Miami the rest of the way.
“Our numbers are so dwindled … it made it difficult to pressure,” Miami head coach John Cooper noted of the game as a whole and late second half in particular.
Wade led MU in points (16) and rebounds (7). Harouna was the only other RedHawk in double figures, adding 15 to the cause. The two sophomores combined to hit 7 of 16 3-point attempts, while the team as a whole made 8-of-25.
Overall, Miami hit 24-of-51 from the field. The 47.9 percent was roughly eight percent better than the team’s season average and slightly more than 11 percent over MU’s previous outing at home against Ball State.
Looking at his squad’s overall effort and performance, Cooper said, “They did one heck of a job competing.”
Ohio finished the day connecting on 25 of 50 (50%) from the field and 8-of-23 (34.8%) on treys. The Bobcats earned a 35-26 advantage in rebounds and also took helped themselves at the foul line, connecting on 18-of-23, while Miami made 8 of 15.
Akron at Miami (Tuesday, 7 p.m. ET)
Ohio at Bowling Green (Tuesday, 7 p.m. ET)