Game 090: (4) Ohio 62, (5) Kent State 55Mid-American Quarterfinals
Thursday, March 10, 2005
Gund Arena - Cleveland, OH
When the starting five take to the floor, there are all the matematically insignificant digits - 1, 3, 4, 5. There's even a double-zero out there. Low numbers are usually indicative of a new squad, since they're usually the first ones to be sewn together and assigned. You might think this team might be right off the boat, maybe even born yesterday. Ohio
University has been playing basketball since 1907, but they're are used to being green around the edges, just like their uniforms. Because of the school's quarter system
, Bobcat hoopsters are taking their final exams while the other 327 Division I teams are participating in early-season exempted tournaments and guarantee games. They didn't enter the standings this year until November 29 (a fresh-legged 81-66 win over San Francisco
), a day when many schools had already put five or six games under their belts.
And because they don't wear surnames on the back of those low-digit shirts, these Bobcats need introductions - maybe even "Hello, My Name Is" tags. First of all, there are the two freshmen: a headbanded point guard named Jeremy Fears
(#3); and the MAC Freshman of the Year, 6'8" post presence Leon Williams
(#5). Sonny Troutman
(#1) is a sophomore small forward, and 6'4" big-guard Mychal Green
(#00) may be a junior, but he just arrived via the juco transfer route. Ohio's four-slotter - a 6'6", 230-lb. bullet named Terren Harbut
(#4) - is their only senior, but he transferred in as well, out of tiny Dixie State College. None of these players were on the 2002-03 team, but each of them contribute in big ways: Harbut is the only one not in double figures this year, averaging 8.5 a game. But he gets a lot of rebounds to make up for it.
This young team represents a town and university known around the region mostly for their Halloween festivities
, which include some of the most boisterous and destructive parties the state has ever seen. Ohio hasn't been a real MAC factor since their 1994 Tournament appearance (their subsequent demise was captured in Lee Caryer's Bobcat Pride
), but a little youthful exuberance might be all the Green and White need to change perceptions about Athens, OH 45701.
On the other side of the ball in this MAC quarterfinal were the league's old guard, the Kent State
Golden Flashes. It's just the way things work, but basketball success has helped their opposition's institution meet its goal of making the public associate Kent with positive things, instead of one tragic event on its campus 25 years ago.
These days, rooting for Kent State to win the conference is like pulling for the New York Yankees. While there's nothing evil about their MAC empire, there's a certain inevitability about a KSU victory. Even when they don't go all the way, they come close - MAC followers know that their recruiting machine is just a quick reload and a few screw-tightenings away from returning to glory. And glory has been in long supply: they've appeared in the league title game each of the past four years (as well as five of six), and their recent NCAA Tournament runs include a heroic Elite Eight dash in 2002.
A series of tiebreakers placed the proud Kent Staters in their dark blue jerseys for this one, acting as the five-seed in the axis game of the 2005 Mid-American Conference tournament. The shiny sheen of the Bobcats' white kits seemed to temporarily distract or blind them, as Ohio excitedly tallied the first 11 points of the game in the contest's first five minutes.
Kent strung together a series of three-pointers to tie the score, but the hard labor was etched in their faces as the youthful Bobcats matched them step for step. Out of the break, the Flashes fought to a 7-2 run, but it would be their terminal gasp.
As the Bobcats unfurled a gamebreaking 11-0 run midway through the second half (keyed by an intentional foul to 5 in white), the Golden Flashes lost their spark. As the points added up, the Ohio team looked more and more energized and hungry. As the Golden Flashes of Kent limped back into their temporary locker room, they certainly looked old and tired.
It remains to be seen whether or not OU's sudden and unexpected tourney success will result in an extended run of good years, or cement a set of heightened expectations that will cause painful frustration in future campaigns. Small-scale dynasties like Kent State have learned not to panic; they just wait calmly for their next opportunity at a title shot. For now, however, the jerseys of the young Ohio Bobcats add up to a very lucky thirteen.Photo Gallery