By Mike Ashcraft
Box Score (PDF)
ATHENS, Ohio -- Senior guard Mike Laster (Detroit, Mich.) turned in his fourth game of the 2017-18 season with at least 20 points as the Ohio men's basketball team (5-4) withstood a late charge from Western Kentucky (6-3) to earn an 89-84 triumph on Sunday (Dec. 10) at the Convocation Center.
The Bobcats earned their first win over the Hilltoppers since recording a 65-42 victory in Athens in the 1945-46 campaign. Ohio improved to 2-4 all-time against Western Kentucky, which received votes in this week's Associated Press Top 25 Poll.
Ohio emerged victorious thanks in large part to a season-best 31-of-35 (88.6 percent) shooting effort from the free throw line. Ohio's 31 made free throws marked the program's most since the Bobcats recorded 33 in a 79-71 win over Mid-American Conference West Division foe Eastern Michigan on Feb. 14, 2017, in Ypsilanti, Mich. The Bobcats shot 46.4 percent (26-of-56) from the floor. Western Kentucky fell despite holding the advantage in both points in the paint (50-34) and second-chance points (21-9).
"We really just did a good job of playing at our pace for 40 minutes," said Laster. "Getting out there, moving the ball and just playing our ball, really. That's what works for us."
Laster led Ohio with a 23-point effort, going 8-of-11 from the field -- including 2-of-3 from three-point range -- en route to finishing in double figures for the sixth game in a row. He also tallied six rebounds, three assists and two steals in 28 minutes. Graduate forward Kevin Mickle (Brooklyn, N.Y.) set a career high with 17 points in his first career start as a Bobcat. He went 6-of-11 from the field and a perfect 5-of-5 from the free throw line and also contributed four rebounds, a steal and an assist in 34 minutes. Freshman guard Teyvion Kirk (Joliet, Ill.) nearly achieved his first career double-double, finishing with 17 points, a career-high nine rebounds and two assists and a steal in 36 minutes. He sank a career-best 9-of-11 free throw attempts. Redshirt sophomore guard James Gollon (Steven Point, Wis.) totaled a career-high 13 points in 22 minutes off of the bench after going 4-of-7 from the floor with a career-high three three-pointers. He also contributed three rebounds, an assist and a block. Sophomore forward Jason Carter (Johnstown, Ohio) reached double figures in points for the first time this season with 12, thanks in large part to an 8-of-10 shooting performance from the free throw line. He also chipped in a season-high five rebounds and three assists as well as two steals over 19 minutes of action off of the bench.
"I was really worried where our offense would come from tonight with Jordy out tonight," said fourth-year head coach Saul Phillips of his team being without junior guard Jordan Dartis (Newark, Ohio), who is nursing a lower leg injury. "The answer is a whole lot of people, which I think is emblematic of this team. Next guy up, let's get this done. We looked like a team coming off of a 25-point loss and weren't real happy about it. We beat a really good team out there. They had to play shorthanded, but we did, too. Good team win."
Freshman guard Taveion Hollingsworth led Western Kentucky with 19 points, going 6-of-12 from the field and 5-of-6 from the charity stripe. He also had four rebounds, a game-high three steals and an assist in 37 minutes. Senior forward Justin Johnson earned a double-double with 16 points and a game-high 13 rebounds. He also recorded a block and a steal over 36 minutes of work. Graduate forward Dwight Coleby tallied 12 points and seven boards in 26 minutes. Graduate guard Darius Thompson logged 12 points, a game-high five assists, four rebounds and a steal in 40 minutes of action. Freshman guard Jake Ohmer posted 12 points, two assists and a steal in 31 minutes of work off of the bench.
Ohio jumped out to a 12-point halftime lead behind the hot hand of Gollon, who knocked down four shots -- including three treys in less than two minutes prior to the under-12 media break -- to finish with a half-high 13 points. Laster went 3-of-5 from the floor with a triple en route to a nine-point opening half and tallied a team-high five boards and three assists while Mickle totaled eight points thanks in large part to a 4-of-4 effort from the charity stripe. The Bobcats led by as many as 16 with 1:36 to go in the half after Gollon made a layup off an assist from Block.
Western Kentucky shaved Ohio's edge down to six by opening the second half with an 8-2 run over the first three-plus minutes, with a layup by Thompson cutting the Bobcats' lead to 44-36 with 16:28 to play. Ohio came firing back, though, going on a 24-14 run over the ensuing 8:41, with a conventional three-point play by Mickle and a trey by Laster highlighting the stretch. A pair of free throws by Laster with just under eight minutes to play made it a 16-point lead again for the Bobcats at 68-52.
Ohio held a 13-point lead at 79-66 with 2:29 remaining after Carter made a layup, but the Hilltoppers mounted one last charge at the Bobcats beginning with a triple by freshman forward Marek Nelson with just over two minutes to go that made it a 10-point contest. After an Ohio turnover, Nelson drained another three to make it a seven-point contest, and, 28 seconds later, it was a five-point game when Johnson made a layup. Two made free throws by Carter and two more by Kirk allowed Ohio's lead to increase to eight at 84-76, but Western Kentucky put together a 6-1 run to make it a three-point affair at 85-82 with 14 seconds remaining, with Hollingsworth taking over for the Hilltoppers by making a layup, a pair of free throws and a jumper in the span of 21 seconds. Western Kentucky was forced to foul Carter with 11 seconds left, and he knocked both freebies down to make it a five-point game. The drama was not over yet, however, as Thompson drew a foul with seven seconds left that awarded him three free throw attempts. Fortunately for Ohio, Thompson was off the mark on all three tries, and the Bobcats were able to seal the deal after Kirk calmly sank a pair of free throws with four seconds left after being fouled while grabbing the rebound on Thompson's third miss.
Laster finished with 14 points off of 5-of-6 shooting in the second half while Kirk totaled 13 points over the final 20 minutes thanks in large part to knocking down nine free throws. Mickle and Carter each finished the second half with nine points.
"I really think he's accepting the role of being our senior leader," said Gollon of Laster's performance. "Very similar to what (former Ohio forward) Treg (Setty) did his senior year and what the guys last year did as well. Big time players make big time plays, and I think he's starting to really fill that role as a big time player for us."
Ohio makes the trek to Huntington, W. Va., to take on longtime rival Marshall on Saturday (Dec. 16). Tip-off is now scheduled for 8 p.m. ET at the Cam Henderson Center.