AKRON — It’s appropriate that Ohio University players huddle around Ricardo Johnson, a senior out with two broken bones in a leg, during timeouts in an act of solidarity.
With four games left in the regular season, the Bobcats might have to earn one of the four byes into the Mid-American Conference tournament standing on one sound leg.
Despite guard Stevie Taylor of Gahanna being limited to five minutes because of a broken bone in his right leg and guard-forward T.J. Hall a shell of himself with sore knees and a strained hamstring, Ohio pulled off another stunning victory last night.
Senior forward Jon Smith of Grove City totaled 16 points and 12 rebounds and played superb defense, and guard Travis Wilkins scored 14 points as Ohio defeated Akron 66-50. The Zips (17-10, 9-5) had won nine of the previous 10 home games against the Bobcats (19-8, 9-5) and four straight in the series.
“This is the time of year when teams start playing for one another,” Ohio coach Jim Christian said. “One team has been resilient all year long when people counted us out. We find ways to win.”
The top two seeds in the MAC earn byes into the semifinals and the third and fourth seeds get first-round byes. Western Michigan and Toledo are 10-3, Buffalo is 10-4 and Ohio and Akron are 9-5.
Akron also is hampered. Forward Nick Harney was suspended indefinitely for conduct detrimental to the team, guard Reggie McAdams has mononucleosis and guard Jake Kretzer has a concussion. Each averages at least 19 minutes.
“You can see it hurts us, but no excuses,” Zips guard Quincy Diggs said. “They took advantage of three guys being out, but you’ve still got to compete at the end. We have to find … what guys can do it and what guys can’t.”
Coach Keith Dambrot said, “We showed quit.”
Smith might have played his best all-around game as a Bobcat. He limited Akron star Demetrius Treadwell to 13 points and 3-of-16 shooting from the field.
Asked how he shut down “The Tree,” Smith refused to go into detail, knowing there could be another matchup in the conference tournament in Cleveland.
“We had a really good game plan,” he said. “We were ready and confident coming into the game. We played with energy. I just tried to get what I could get.”
Ohio led Akron 16-5 just 9:28 into the game and had a 13-1 surge to lead 36-20 at halftime. A three-point play by Treg Setty, two short shots by Smith and a steal and layup by point guard Javarez Willis finished the run. The Bobcats led by as much as 57-35 with 7:31 left in the game on a layup by Maurice Ndour.
Wilkins, a senior, was valuable because Nick Kellogg of DeSales sat out a great chunk of the game because of foul trouble. He was 5 of 6 from the floor and hit all three three-point attempts. .
“The ball felt good coming out of my hands,” Wilkins said. “My teammates did a good job of finding me when I was open.”