OXFORD, Ohio — The Bobcats could’ve been limping into the postseason.
Instead, Ohio kicked the door down on its way to the 2020 Mid-American Conference Tournament.
Down 10 with less than three minutes to go, Ohio stormed all the way back to stun Miami — 69-67 — inside Millett Hall on Monday night. The Bobcats (16-15, 8-10 MAC) won their first road game in nearly two months, and clinched a home game on Monday night in the first round of the conference tournament.
“We were just playing for another home game for the seniors,” said Ohio freshman guard Miles Brown.
Brown delivered the winning blow for the Bobcats. Brown followed up a Jason Preston miss, a tip-in from the right side, with 14.5 seconds left to break a 65-65 tie.
“I looked up and I seen he was there, and I was just happy. That’s all that matters,” said Preston, who finished with a 24 points, seven assists and five rebounds.
Miami (12-19, 5-13 MAC) had a chance to win it, but Bam Bowman’s 3-point try from the left side was short. The RedHawks got the rebound, but a last-ditch toss at the rim at the buzzer went off the side of the backboard.
Ohio played without sophomore forward Ben Vander Plas — the team’s second-leading scorer and leading rebounder — and redshirt senior guard Jordan Dartis (4 points) played at decidedly less than full strength because of a foot injury.
The Bobcats labored through more than 35 minutes before making the late run.
Bowman paced Miami with 17 points and Dae Dae Grant added 13 for the RedHawks. Isiah Coleman-Lands added 11.
Ohio led 29-22 after a low-tempo first half, but Miami landed a 15-1 run midway through the second to take control. Mekhi Lairy’s 3-point play gave the RedHawks a 59-50 lead with 4:35 left.
After Preston drilled a 3 to pull Ohio to within 60-53, Coleman-Lands answered with a triple of his own for a 10-point bulge with 3:07 left.
Preston, as it turned out, was just getting started. First he whipped a pass to Ben Roderick for a 3-pointer. Then after consecutive Miami turnovers, Preston scored a pair of fast-break layups to pull Ohio to within 63-60, with 1:58 left.
Preston was fouled after the second layup, but missed the free throw. But, Preston tracked down his own miss, set up on the right wing, and bagged a game-tying 3-pointer with 1:56 left.
“That’s what great players do,” said Ohio head coach Jeff Boals. “That’s what Evan Turner used to do for us at Ohio State. Put him in a ball screen and he’ll make a play.
“I think that just shows his growth this season.”
Brown then fished out his second steal in three possessions on the defensive end. Fouled going to the rim, Brown hit two free throws for an Ohio lead with 1:24 left.
“I thought he did a good job of taking some pressure off Jay Preston, bringing the ball up the floor, handling it. He was really good defensively, made some big plays down the stretch,” Boals said. “He was a big reason why we won.”
Bowman tied for it Miami on the next trip, with 1:02 left.
Ohio’s final offensive possession consisted of four shots. Freshman Ben Roderick missed a jumper in the lane, and freshman Lunden McDay missed the follow up, but center Sylvester Ogbonda collared another offensive rebound.
And then after Preston’s second miss, Brown was there for the game-winner.
The sequence exemplified the effort Ohio played with down the stretch, as the concept of a home game in the conference tournament was slipping away.
“Those last four minutes, it was everything,” Preston said.
McDay finished with 16 points and a career-high nine rebounds — six on the offensive end — for Ohio. Roderick added 11 points and six boards.
Down two important players, and lacking a spark, the Bobcats found it just in time against Miami. The RedHawks will be the 12th-seed in the MAC Tournament, but Ohio relished the comeback road victory all the same.
“It was just a team effort,” Brown said. “(Boals) just said ‘Don’t ever believe you’re out of a game. Keep pushing, keep working.’
“And with (Preston) you just clear out. Get out of his way.”
Ohio finished eighth in the final MAC overall standings. The Bobcats will face Central Michigan (14-17, 7-11 MAC) in the 2020 MAC Tournament first round on Monday evening in the Convo. OU won the first meeting this season, 77-69, back on Feb. 18.
Ohio was just 2-7 through the first half of conference play this season, but finished 6-3 — with a couple of narrow losses — over the season’s second half.
The Bobcats won’t be a favorite to win the tournament, but they’re playing with the grit, determination and toughness of their head coach.
“They’re playing with a lot of belief, a lot of confidence,” Boals said. “To do that without Ben Vander Plas, a non-100 percent Jordan Darts? Hats off to our guys.
“You got to dig deep, fight through it and find a way. We did.”
Ohio 67, Miami 65
Ohio 29 38 — 67
Miami 22 43 — 65
OHIO 67 (16-15, 8-10 MAC)
Ben Roderick 4 0-1 11, Sylvester Ogbonda 4 0-0 8, Jason Preston 8 3-5 24, Lunden McDay 4 6-7 16, Jordan Dartis 2 0-0 4, Nolan Foster 0 0-0 0, Miles Brown 1 2-2 4, Connor Murrell 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 23 11-15 67; 3-point goals — 10-30 (Preston 5-9, Roderick 3-10, McDay 2-3, Ogbonda 0-2, Dartis 0-2, Murrell 0-2, Foster 0-1, Brown 0-1).
MIAMI 65 (12-19, 5-13 MAC)
Bam Bowman 6 3-5 17, Nike Sibande 3 0-0 7, Dae Dae Grant 3 6-6 13, Myja White 0 0-0 0, Milos Jovic 0 0-0 0, Isaiah Coleman-Lands 4 1-2 11, Elijah McNamara 3 2-3 8, Mekhi Lairy 3 3-3 9, Josh Brewer 0 0-0 0, Dalonte Brown 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 22 15-19 65; 3-point goals — 6-28 (Bowman 2-6, Coleman-Lands 2-6, Grant 1-3, Sibande 1-4, Lairy 0-1, Brown 0-1, White 0-2, Brewer 0-2, Jovic 0-3).
TEAM STATISTICS/INDIVIDUAL LEADERS
Field goals — Ohio 23-58 (.397), 3-point goals 10-30 (.333); Miami 22-48 (.458), 3-point goals 6-28 (.385); Free throws — Ohio 11-15 (.733), Miami 15-19 (.789); Rebounds — Ohio 35/11 offensive (McDay 9), Miami 30/3 offensive (Sibande 7); Assists — Ohio 12 (Preston 7), Miami 9 (Lairy 4); Steals — Ohio 8 (Brown 3), Miami 3; Blocks — Ohio 1, Miami 3 (McNamara 2); Turnovers — Ohio 7, Miami 8; Personal fouls — Ohio 18, Miami 15; Attendance — 2,289; Technical fouls — none.