Every once in a while, something happens that reminds you that we take this game too seriously. Friday night was one of those times.
The second leg of the Battle of the Bricks, the rivalry between Miami University and Ohio University, was supposed to be played on Friday night. However, an outbreak of tornadoes across Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky led school officials to postpone the game to Saturday. The heaviest storms all passed South of Oxford, and the campus was clear and sunny by 6 p.m., but the storm leveled two small towns in Indiana and took at least 30 lives, so safety was clearly the right decision. There are certainly more important things than basketball games.
The Battle of the Bricks dates back to 1908, when the two schools first played in basketball and football. It earned the name because both campuses are built almost entirely of red brick buildings. Arriving on the Miami campus as a freshman has to be a bit confusing, as every building looks quite similar. Every building is red brick, with cream-colored windows and stone accents. Only the shape, size and location differentiates the buildings.
On paper, this looked like a mismatch. Ohio came into the game at 23-7, and 10-5 in the Mid-American Conference. Miami, who has struggled with injuries all year, came in at 9-19, and 5-10 in the MAC. But there's a saying about throwing away the record book in a rivalry, and that was the case earlier in the year when Ohio won a tight-fought game in Athens, 69-65.
It was Senior Day for the two Miami seniors, Julian Mavunga and Adam Thomas. Miami put its new video board to good use for the Senior Day ceremonies, showing a highlight package of each player while their various accomplishments were read over the PA. At halftime, short interviews with each of the seniors were played. The content was pretty light-hearted; Mavunga revealed that his favorite pastime was napping.
In the beginning, it looked like an Ohio blowout might actually happen, as the Miami offense struggled to get anything going. An Ivo Baltic jumper gave the Bobcats an 18-8 lead halfway through the first half. And there were plenty of Ohio supporters who filled up three sections behind the Bobcat bench to cheer them on. A lot of OU grads come from and end up in the Cincinnati-Dayton region.
But Brian Sullivan went on a personal 4-0 run at the end of the half, and the RedHawks only trailed 28-24 going to the locker room. Well, most of the team went to the locker room. Noticeably lingering on the court was Charlie Coles. Coles was the last member of Miami's "Fantastic 14" to be recognized. Many forget that Coles was a pretty good player in his day. He is a member of the 1,000 point club at Miami, achieving that feat in three years when freshmen were ineligible and there were no superhoops. After a brief presentation with most of his family by his side, Coles finally made his way to the locker room.
It was nice to see Coles on the court at all. Coles had been in the hospital with a viral infection and missed last Saturday's game at Buffalo. This fueled the rumors even more that the end of his career is near. He even acknowledged it in the post-game press conference. "I'm trying to say goodbye, but I don't know how," Coles was quoted in the Dayton Daily News. "I'm winding things down. I don't know what's gonna happen here, but it ain't going the way I wanted it to fellas." A 20-loss season is certainly a painful way for a basketball guy to leave behind the game he loves. He's in the last year of his contract, so the chance to leave somewhat on his terms, something most basketball guys don't get to do, is available.
But just because Charlie Coles might be in the final games of his career doesn't mean he's lost any of the passion. In fact, it may have given him one last blast of energy. "Good ol' Charlie is almost crazy now... I don't think I'm gonna run my car over a cliff. I don't think I'm gonna shoot somebody, but am I gonna raise my voice? Oh yeah. I've probably had about 25 arguments with 20 different people in the last two weeks," Coles continued in another epic press conference rant.
The crowd and players seemed to feed off of it. Adam Thomas would end up scoring a career-high 10 points in the game. Mavunga, who picked up an injury early in the second half, played through a noticeable limp in the last 10 minutes. With the students on spring break, the cheerleaders turned to the most obnoxious people available to make some noise, a group of 30 or so 8-12 year-old boys who were sitting in the front couple of rows of the usual student section.
After a contested jump ball call that Coles thought was a foul, Coles left the coaches box and made his way all the way to X on the court in front of the official scorer to voice his displeasure. After about 30 seconds, Associate Head Coach Jermaine Henderson finally went after Coles to get him to come back to the bench. Coles refused, and knocked Henderson's hand away when he tried to pull him back. For any other coach, a technical would have been given for this type of behavior. But Coles just has that much respect from everyone.
Fight as they would, Miami could never get the lead inside of four. Ohio hit 11 out of its last 12 free throws in the last minute and a half to secure the victory. With 23 seconds left and down nine, Coles decided the game was out of reach and subbed out his two seniors, Mavunga and Thomas, for one last ovation. Baltic would get a steal and Ohio ran out the clock for a 63-54 victory.
In the handshake line, a lot of mutual respect was shown. Most of the Ohio players wanted to give Coles a hug. Ohio coach John Groce gave out a few extended hugs, most noticeably to Mavunga and Miami assistant coach Todd Lickliter, who were both Butler assistants under Thad Matta in his one season in charge of the Bulldogs. It was a great show of brotherhood between two rivals in light of the previous evening's events.
But there was one group that wouldn't get the same show of brotherhood, the referees. Coles couldn't resist letting his feelings known. "Ooh, ooh, I'm gonna get in trouble," Coles said. "Tell you what they can do. They can suspend me for a year -- that'd be a good one, wouldn't it? Suspend me for the year...starting next year."
Whether your career lasts one more week or five more seasons, we're going to miss you on the sidelines, Charlie.
OHIO 63, at MIAMI (OH.) 54 03/03/2012
OHIO 24-7 (10-5) -- D. Cooper 3-9 7-8 14; I. Baltic 4-10 0-0 8; N. Kellogg 4-9 1-1 10; W. Offutt 2-6 2-2 6; J. Smith 6-7 1-2 13; R. Keely 2-2 0-0 4; R. Johnson 1-3 4-4 6; S. Taylor 0-3 0-0 0; T. Hall 1-3 0-0 2; T. Goard 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-52 15-17 63. MIAMI (OH.) 9-20 (5-10) -- J. Harris 4-8 0-0 9; Q. Rollins 1-2 4-4 6; B. Sullivan 3-11 4-4 11; A. Thomas 5-6 0-0 10; J. Mavunga 3-13 2-2 8; V. Legarza 1-2 2-2 4; J. Sewell 2-6 0-1 4; W. Sullivan 1-1 0-0 2; J. Mezher 0-0 0-0 0; J. Tadlock 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-49 12-13 54.
Three-point goals: OHIO 2-15 (W. Offutt 0-2; I. Baltic 0-1; D. Cooper 1-4; N. Kellogg 1-6; S. Taylor 0-2), MIO 2-15 (J. Mavunga 0-1; A. Thomas 0-1; J. Harris 1-4; J. Sewell 0-3; B. Sullivan 1-6); Rebounds: OHIO 32 (I. Baltic 7), MIO 23 (J. Mavunga 9); Assists: OHIO 9 (D. Cooper 4), MIO 11 (Q. Rollins 4); Total Fouls -- OHIO 16, MIO 20; Fouled Out: OHIO-None; MIO-Q. Rollins.