Listen, Teyvion Kirk gets it if you don’t believe the Bobcats have a shot in their rematch against the Bulls on Tuesday night.
He doesn’t blame you. He just doesn’t feel the same way.
“For sure. We got beat by almost 50. I probably wouldn’t either,” said Kirk, Ohio’s sophomore guard and second-leading scorer. “But me as a competitor, I think we can win regardless what anyone thinks.”
“There’s no pressure on us. They’re coming into our house ranked. They have the pressure on their shoulders. They’re expected to beat us, we’re expected to lose,” he continued.
“If you look at it that way, all you have to do is just give it all you got.”
Ohio (13-15, 5-11 Mid-American Conference) gets its rematch with No. 19/20 Buffalo (26-3, 14-2 MAC) starting at 7 p.m. The first meeting? It’s one Kirk, and any Ohio fan, would like to forget.
The Bulls ripped Ohio, 114-67, back on Feb. 19 in Amherst, N.Y. Buffalo hit a school record 19 3-pointers, and set program records for most points scored against a Division I opponent and largest margin of victory against a D-I foe.
It was the worst loss in 20 years for Ohio, which has won two of its last three games since the blowout.
Ohio head coach Saul Phillips knows the Bobcats will have to be better in every way to have a shot in the rematch. But he’ll settle for a better defensive showing. The Bulls hit 19 of 33 (57.6 percent) from 3-point range. In the three games since, Ohio has allowed a combined 19 3-pointers on 27.5 percent shooting from opponents.
“19 is a lot. Even if you completely meltdown defensively, 19 is probably not a number you’re going to give up,” Phillips said. “That’s got to get better. We certainly made adjustments. We didn’t copy the game plan from the last game and say ‘Ah, that’s good enough.’
“The way they generated most of the their 3s is they got great penetration. We got to do a better job guarding the dribble.”
The game is a key step for the Bulls, now ranked for 17 straight weeks, in their quest to craft an at-large berth for the NCAA Tournament. Barring a string of losses at season’s end, the Bulls will be in regardless if they win the MAC Tournament or not.
But UB, which has won four straight and five of six against Ohio, can clinch the No. 1 seed for the MAC Tourney with a victory.
Ohio is hoping to make a move in the MAC standings during the final week of the regular season. The Bobcats are currently slotted 11th, but — with help — can climb as high as seventh in the MAC with a pair of wins this week. A loss to the Bulls means Ohio can finish no higher than 10th in the standings.
But that isn’t on Phillips’ mind. Instead, he’s focusing on Ohio’s chance to win on its home floor against a ranked opponent. Phillips has never been a head coach hosting a top 25 team before, and Ohio’s last home game against a ranked foe came late in 2013 against UMass.
“That’s a pretty unique opportunity,” Phillips said. “It’s a rarity that we have an opportunity to take advantage of. I know our guys are locked in and looking forward to it.”
Ohio is 11-52 all-time against ranked teams, and the last win was in 2012 in the NCAA Tournament against Michigan. The Bobcats are just 3-6 against ranked foes in the Convo.
Buffalo will match the highest-ranked MAC team to ever face Ohio. The ‘Cats lost to No. 19 Ball State on March 10, 1989 in the MAC Tournament. The last time OU hosted a ranked MAC team was on Feb. 27, 2013 in an 88-81 overtime loss to No. 24 Akron.
In fact, the Bulls will be the highest ranked team to play in the Convo since No. 6 Kentucky visited the Roundhouse on Richland on Dec. 30, 1997.
It’s a spotlight that could illuminate the recent progress Ohio has made, or highlight the deficiencies that led to a 47-point road loss to the same club two weeks ago.
The Bobcats will play a large part in which portrait gets painted.
“For me, it’s out of the memory banks,” Kirk said of the loss on Feb. 19. “I know any time that I step on the floor I always have a chance, and the team has a chance, to do whatever we want to do.”