ATHENS, OHIO -- Teyvion Kirk couldn't stop smiling. Sitting in the postgame press conference inside the Convo, he joked around about how he tried to dunk over Adonis De La Rosa, the junior center for Kent State.
But that moment on Tuesday night wasn't the one that highlighted his performance in an 88-76 win over the Golden Flashes.
No, it was when the Bobcats needed a spark to hold off a surging Kent State team that Kirk rose to the challenge. With 9:12 remaining in the game, Ohio led the Golden Flashes, 62-60, but were on the cusp of giving up a lead it had all game.
Kirk scored eight-straight points -- including a dunk -- to power a 14-0 run by the Bobcats that gave Ohio a game-high 14-point lead at 74-60 with 6:32 to go.
"Just take it one possession at a time," said Kirk. "They were on a run, so it was important for us to go down and execute, get some stops. We're doing great on offense. Just getting everybody the ball, just making everybody a threat. Keeping people honest on defense, also just getting some stops."
For a freshman who made his entrance into the spotlight of the Mid-American Conference much earlier this season, each game continues to be a chance for Kirk to have a key moment. Tuesday night, he scored 17 points in 32 minutes, adding four rebounds.
Kirk's got the bark and the bite, too. He'll get in an opponents face, but he won't have a problem stealing the ball from them a possession later and taking it coast-to-coast.
It's not just the swag he walks with on the court, either; it's the rate he's improving at.
"I think the biggest thing you're seeing is a better understanding of how to run a team out of a freshman point guard," said fourth-year head coach Saul Phillips. "And boy, is it starting to look fun out there. We're edging towards being the kind of team you don't want to see in the tournament in a hurry."
Phillips is spot on. Kirk and the Bobcats are improving at a fast rate. After losing seven of eight in the month of January, they've won two straight games for the first time since December.
It once seemed like a lock that Ohio would be the No. 12 seed in the upcoming MAC Tournament. Now, if the Bobcats win out, they could host a first-round game. Nobody is saying it isn't annoying this progress didn't happen sooner, but a basketball team eventually has a good stretch of play, and, for Ohio, it's happening at the right time.
Much of it is attributed to players getting healthier as the season progresses, but with the growth of Kirk as a point guard, Ohio's offense has come alive like it hasn't all year. Instead of just driving down the lane for a layup like he would've in December, through watching film with coaches, he now has a better understanding on how open a perimeter shooter such as junior guard Jordan Dartis can be at times. He had four assists in the win over Kent State.
There's always a learning curve. But, Phillips and the program are happy Kirk is learning at such a fast rate.
If there is one thing that Kirk and his teammates know at the moment, it's that they have more to prove. With the way they're playing basketball recently, there may be a shot they can extend their season longer than people thought.
"I just look at it as the focus we have," said Dartis. "We're just so free right now. We're not really worried about tournament seeding. We're just taking it one game at a time, just trying to better ourselves every day in practice and in games."
Pete Nakos is the Writer for Ohio Athletics. Have any questions? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Pete_Nakos96.