ATHENS, Ohio -- Ohio and Miami are the two oldest universities in the state of Ohio (1804 and 1809, respectively), and had met on the hardwood 187 times since 1908 coming into Saturday's contest, with Ohio holding a slim 96-91 advantage in the all-time series. The teams have had a tendency for close games the last few years, especially in Athens. Ohio's home game in the 2010-2011 series saw Miami pull out a 4 point win in a 55-minute contest, while the 2009-2010 meeting in Athens ended like this. I may be a touch biased, being an Ohio grad, but I don't think there's a better environment in the MAC, and would say it could rival any in the country. While the conference was touting near-sellout crowds in both Akron and Athens for rivalry games, I think it is worth noting Akron's crowd could've fit into the Convocation Center twice, with room to spare.
I knew as soon as the schedule was announced this would be a special game, as it was Dad's Weekend on campus, and Miami as the opponent -- two of the strongest draws of each season, typically, at Ohio. I figured it stood a decent shot at being the largest Convo crowd I'd seen in person since I started school in 2007, and started making plans to take time off to head home for a vacation to visit family and my girlfriend back in Ohio, and to attend the game. Then on November 30, the school announced they'd be honoring Gary Trent, the Shaq of the MAC, at halftime by hoisting his jersey into the rafters. I knew immediately it'd be the closest thing to a sellout I'd ever seen in the building (which has reached its advertised capacity of 13,080 just twice since the building opened in 1968.
Despite wintry weather and a coating of ice over Athens (credit to my girlfriend for this and all the photos included here), Bobcat fans came out in force. While the weather may have scared off some of the 13,011 announced ticket-holders (good for fourth all time in the building, and 10 fewer than the Miami game in 1997), the place certainly filled in quite nicely. Shortly before tipoff, the lights flickered off overhead, and Ohio multimedia/marketing guru Evan Shaw's intro video whipped the crowd into a frenzy (Here's the video playing on the scoreboard since the angle on that video isn't great).
After a Walter Offutt three to begin the scoring for Ohio, the Bobcats seemed offensively lost for a good portion of the first half, and got down by as many as 12 (22-10) with nine minutes left to play in the first half, leaving the crowd restless. On the back of a 7-0 run, the 'Cats clawed back to within six of the RedHawks entering halftime.
The restless crowd had more to cheer about during the intermission than during the live action, when Trent was honored at halftime with a video recounting the accomplishments of the early-90s teams he played on for Ohio. A conference player of the year each of his three seasons, Trent set numerous records at Ohio and in the conference, playing on the 94-95 squad that beat Ohio State, #14 Virginia, George Washington, then New Mexico State on its way to a Preseason NIT championship and #14 ranking in the AP poll before dropping their next game to top-ranked Kentucky by just five. That team won 25 games, which remains the team record to this day.
Most of the team members from those years were also on hand for the weekend, and congratulatory messages from Geno Ford (Ohio '93-'97, Kent State head coach '08-'11, current Bradley head coach, Jeff Boals (Ohio '92-'95, current Ohio State assistant coach), and Larry Hunter (Ohio head coach '89-'01, current Western Carolina head coach). I enjoyed hearing his colleagues and mentors speak about Trent, and learning through an article in the Columbus Dispatch more about his personal life and struggles in coming to Ohio. Trent's thank you speech ended with, "we need to finish kickin' Miami's ass," which was met with a roar of approval from the crowd.
To be fair, as my beloved Bobcats had trailed the entire first half (save for a brief lead at 3-0), perhaps they needed to start kicking' Miami's ass. The start of the second half was a back-and-forth slog much like the first, but Ohio came up with a 7-0 run over about four minutes on the back of two Reggie Keely and-ones to pull within one and bring some life to the crowd. about two minutes later, Keely came up with a third and-one in the paint to draw the teams even at 45. An Ivo Baltic steal lead to a made jump shot on the other end, putting Ohio ahead for the first time since a minute into the game, and the crowd of roughly 13,000 came to their feet as Miami head coach Charlie Coles was forced to call a timeout.
Unfortunately, Miami was able to make a run out of the timeout and push the lead back to eight, quieting the crowd considerably over the next few minutes. The crowd was buzzing and tense with anticipation, bursting after a Baltic dunk and D.J. Cooper 3-pointer. With 1:29 on the clock, Walter Offutt made a layup to push the Bobcats back into the lead by a point. The final minute seemed to take an eternity to play out, as is often the case in such close games. The last 18 seconds of game clock featured three full timeouts, three Miami fouls, and Ohio banging down five of six free throws to seal a four-point win for Ohio.
I'll never forget this day, the large crowd and halftime ceremony, and the nail-biting finish. But none of those things will be the most memorable. Remember the girlfriend I spoke of, whose photography is featured with this essay? I have a new name for her now: fiancé.
at OHIO 69, MIAMI (OH.) 65 01/21/2012
MIAMI (OH.) 5-12 (1-4) -- J. Mavunga 3-6 0-0 7; D. McGhee 5-8 0-0 10; B. Sullivan 6-14 0-0 16; Q. Rollins 4-6 0-0 8; J. Harris 2-5 0-0 6; W. Sullivan 2-5 0-0 5; J. Sewell 2-4 0-0 6; A. Thomas 1-3 3-5 5; V. Legarza 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 26-52 3-5 65. OHIO 15-4 (3-2) -- I. Baltic 9-13 2-4 20; D. Cooper 2-10 8-10 13; W. Offutt 6-11 1-2 15; R. Keely 4-7 3-4 11; N. Kellogg 0-3 2-2 2; J. Smith 0-0 0-0 0; R. Johnson 1-1 1-2 3; S. Taylor 0-4 1-2 1; T. Hall 2-2 0-1 4; T. Goard 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-51 18-27 69.
Three-point goals: MIO 10-23 (J. Mavunga 1-2; A. Thomas 0-2; J. Harris 2-5; J. Sewell 2-4; B. Sullivan 4-9; W. Sullivan 1-1), OHIO 3-14 (W. Offutt 2-3; D. Cooper 1-5; N. Kellogg 0-3; S. Taylor 0-3); Rebounds: MIO 27 (J. Mavunga 10), OHIO 28 (J. Smith 6); Assists: MIO 12 (Q. Rollins 6), OHIO 7 (D. Cooper 3); Total Fouls -- MIO 25, OHIO 13; Fouled Out: MIO-D. McGhee; OHIO-None.