ATHENS, Ohio -- The Ohio men's basketball team (7-6, 0-1 MAC) seeks its first conference win of the 2018 campaign when it plays host to Mid-American Conference West Division rival Northern Illinois (8-6, 1-0 MAC) on Saturday (Jan. 6) at the Convocation Center. Tip-off is slated for 3:30 p.m. ET.
Saturday's game will be streamed live on WatchESPN and the ESPN app, with 'Voice of the Bobcats' Russ Eisenstein and Ryan Boyd on the call. The contest will also be broadcast on the Ohio IMG Sports Network, with Marty Bannister on the call. Radio pregame coverage is set to begin at 3 p.m. ET with 'Countdown To Tipoff.'
BOBCATS OPEN MAC PLAY WITH LOSS AT CENTRAL MICHIGAN
Ohio was knocked off by West Division foe Central Michigan, 75-50, in the 2018 MAC opener at McGuirk Arena on Tuesday (Jan. 2).
The Chippewas outscored the Bobcats, 38-19, in the second half as Ohio shot just 26.7 percent (8-of-30) from the floor and went 0-of-11 from beyond the arc.
Senior guard Mike Laster (Detroit, Mich.) led Ohio with 19 points, marking the 10th time this season he's reached double figures in points -- including each of his last nine games played. He has now led the Bobcats in scoring a team-high seven times. Laster went 8-of-14 from the field with a pair of three-pointers. He also logged five rebounds, two assists, a steal and a block over 26 minutes. Freshman guard Teyvion Kirk (Joliet, Ill.) was the only other Bobcat to finish in double figures in points, totaling 13 off of a 6-of-13 shooting performance. He has now finished in double figures a team-high 11 times this year. Kirk also led the Bobcats with seven rebounds to go along with two steals and a block in 28 minutes.
OHIO FINISHES NON-CONFERENCE PLAY WITH SEVEN WINS
The Bobcats tallied seven victories in 12 tries over the first two months of the 2017-18 campaign.
Ohio opened the year with a 61-53 triumph over Alabama A&M on Nov. 11 at the Convocation Center, marking the first of six wins at the Roundhouse On Richland in non-conference action. The Bobcats' biggest win of the non-conference slate came on Dec. 10, with Ohio posting an 89-84 victory over Western Kentucky, which had received votes in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll the previous week.
The Bobcats went 1-2 at the 2017 Gildan Charleston Classic, placing seventh in the tournament that was held Nov. 16-19 at TD Arena in Charleston, S.C.
After falling to Clemson, 81-76, on Nov. 16 and in-state rival Dayton, 79-65, the following day, Ohio clawed back from an 18-point deficit and outlasted Indiana State in quadruple overtime, 96-94, on Nov. 19 in the seventh-place game.
The win over Indiana State saw the Bobcats play their first four-overtime contest since Dec. 18, 2010, and prevail in quadruple overtime for the first time since a 112-104 win over MAC rival Akron on Jan. 8, 2003. Ohio's rally from 18 down in the victory represented the program's largest comeback win of fourth-year head coach Saul Phillips' tenure. Per the college basketball analytics website KenPom.com, Ohio had a 0.3 percent chance of defeating Indiana State when the Bobcats trailed the Sycamores by a 77-68 count with 48 seconds remaining in the second overtime. Ohio refused to give in, though, and went on a 13-4 run in the final 40 seconds.
Ohio will enter MAC play still in search of its first true road win of 2017-18. The Bobcats suffered an 87-62 setback to Big Ten Conference foe Maryland on Dec. 7 in College Park, Md., then fell to longtime rival Marshall in an overtime heartbreaker, 99-96, on Dec. 16 in Huntington, W. Va.
Ohio is holding the opposition to a 41.8 percent field goal percentage in 2017-18, which is good for second among MAC teams. Opponents are shooting just 31.2 percent from beyond the arc, which ranks second among MAC teams and 47th in the country.
THE INJURY BUG
Ohio has been dealing with adversity on the injury front all through the early portion of the 2017-18 season.
Sophomore forward Jason Carter (Johnstown, Ohio) -- a 2017-18 Preseason All-MAC East Division Team selection and 2017 All-MAC Freshman Team pick -- has missed 10 games this year with a lower leg injury. The Bobcats have been depleted in the frontcourt as freshman forward Ben Vander Plas (Ripon, Wis.) works his way back from a lower leg injury and has yet to appear in a game this season. After missing the first 12 games of the 2017-18 campaign with an upper arm injury, freshman forward A.J. Gareri (Akron, Ohio) made his career debut at Central Michigan, scoring two points off of two made free throws. Graduate forward Kevin Mickle (Brooklyn, N.Y.) missed two games due to a lower leg injury.
The Bobcats have also found themselves without their starting guards at different points, with Laster and junior Jordan Dartis (Newark, Ohio) each missing a game due to injuries.
Laster is looking to make his final season as a Bobcat his best yet, and he's off to a good start. He is averaging 16.1 points per game to lead the team and is shooting 50.0 percent (78-of-156) from the field to rank second on the squad.
Laster turned in his team-high fourth game of the 2017-18 season with at least 20 points in the win over Western Kentucky. He 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.
Between Nov. 19-28, Laster tallied three-straight games with at least 20 points, making him the first Bobcat to achieve such a feat since 2015-16. His 25-point effort in the quadruple overtime win over Indiana State in the Gildan Charleston Classic represented a career high.
Over his last 30 games, Laster is averaging 11.0 points per game and is shooting 52.3 percent (132-of-251) from the field.
ROOKIE PLAYING LIKE A VET
Kirk has impressed through his first 12 games as a Bobcat. Starting at point guard in every contest, he is averaging 14.2 points per game to rank third on the team and is shooting 45.0 percent (67-of-149) from the field. He was the lone Bobcat to tally double-digit points the first six contests of the year. He also ranks second on the team with 6.2 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game and is tied for the team lead with 3.4 assists per game.
Kirk achieved his first career double-double with 14 points and a game-high 14 rebounds to set a new career high in Ohio's 65-58 win over Northwestern Ohio on Dec. 29 at the Convo to close out the non-conference portion of the 2017-18 schedule.
Ohio beat Alabama A&M in the season opener on Nov. 11 at the Convo behind a game-high 16 points from Kirk in his debut for the Bobcats. At the 2017 Gildan Charleston Classic in Charleston, S.C., Kirk notched 10 points, a game-high six assists, four rebounds and a steal in 28 minutes against Clemson (Nov. 16), then logged 12 points, five rebounds, two assists and a steal over 27 minutes against Dayton (Nov. 17) in the Charleston Classic. He saved his best for last in Charleston with a 20-point effort that saw him score a combined 12 points over the final three overtimes to help the Bobcats clinch the win in quadruple overtime over Indiana State.
Kirk continued the strong start to his freshman campaign in a 96-77 win over Mount St. Mary's on Nov. 24 at the Convo, tallying a career-high 20 points for the second game in a row to tie for the team lead. He shot 7-of-14 from the floor -- including 2-of-3 from beyond the arc -- in addition to sinking four his five free throw attempts.
Mickle has proven to be a valuable addition to the Ohio rotation since joining the program upon earning his bachelor's degree in communications from Florida Gulf Coast after playing for the Eagles for two seasons.
Mickle currently ranks fourth on the team with 11.0 points per game and is shooting a team-best 54.5 percent (48-of-88) from the floor. He set a career high with 17 points in his first career start as a Bobcat in the win over Western Kentucky, which he then broke with his 19-point effort in the loss at Marshall.
Mickle has reached double figures in points seven times in 11 games played for Ohio in 2017-18 -- including four of the last five contests. In 63 games at Florida Gulf Coast, he reached double digits just three times.
For his two-plus year Ohio career, Dartis averages 11.6 points per game and is a 44.6 percent shooter -- including a program-record 43.9 percent success rate from beyond the arc. He has finished in double figures 45 times in his Ohio career, which is the most among active Bobcats, and has tallied at least 20 points in a game nine times in his career, which is also ranks as the most among active Ohio players.
Dartis is averaging 14.6 points per game to rank second on the squad in 2017-18 and has finished with double-digit points seven times this season to rank third on the team. He scored a career-high 27 points, thanks in large part to matching his career high with seven made threes at Marshall. He then recorded his second-straight outing with at least 20 points, tallying a team-high 23 off a 6-of-13 shooting effort from the field that included three treys in addition to sinking eight of his nine free throw attempts in an 84-65 win over Prairie View A&M on Dec. 20 at the Convo.
A 2017-18 Preseason All-MAC East Division Team pick, Dartis is coming off of a 2016-17 sophomore campaign in which he garnered Second Team All-MAC honors. He started a career-high 31 games, tallying a career-high 390 points (12.6 per game) to rank second on the team, a career-high 113 rebounds (3.6 per game) to rank fifth on the team, a career-high 56 assists (1.8 per game) to rank third on the team, a career-high 39 steals (1.3 per game) to lead the team and a career-high six blocks (0.2 per game) over a career-high 1,082 minutes (34.9 per game) to rank second on the team. Dartis shot 44.0 percent (118-of-268) from the field -- including a team-best 44.1 percent (86-of-195) from three-point range, which ranks as the seventh-best three-point field goal percentage in a single season in program history and ranked as the best in the conference and 11th in the nation. He also posted a team-best 88.3 percent (68-of-77) free throw percentage. Dartis finished in double figures in points a career-high 23 times to rank second on the team -- including recording 20 or more points a career-high four times -- and led the team in scoring a career-high four times and in assists a career-high two times.
SCOUTING THE HUSKIES
Northern Illinois enters its second MAC game of 2018 with an overall record of 8-6 and is coming off a 75-61 home win over East Division foe Kent State in its league opener on Tuesday in DeKalb, Ill.
The Huskies are guided by Mark Montgomery, who is in his seventh season as head coach. Northern Illinois. Northern Illinois was picked to place fifth in the West Division in the 2017-18 MAC preseason poll. The Huskies went 15-17 overall in 2016-17 -- including a 7-11 mark in MAC play.
Northern Illinois closes out the first weekend of conference play ranking fourth among MAC squads in field goal percentage (46.2 percent) and fifth in three-point field goal percentage (35.4 percent). The Huskies' +2.6 turnover margin is good for second among conference teams and 60th in the country.
Sophomore guard Eugene German -- a 2017-18 Preseason All-MAC West Divison team pick -- ranks second in the conference with 19.9 points per game. Junior wing Levi Bradley is averaging 14.6 points per game and went a perfect 14-of-14 from the free throw line in Tuesday's win over Kent State en route to a game-high 25 points. He also leads the Huskies with 6.3 boards per game this season. Junior guard Dane Thorpe is also averaging double figures in points for Northern Illinois, averaging 12.5 per game.
Saturday's game marks the 53rd all-time meeting between Ohio and Northern Illinois, with the Bobcats holding a 34-18 (.654) lead in the series. Ohio is 3-2 against the Huskies in the Phillips era and have taken each of the last three meetings -- including a 78-69 victory over Northern Illinois on Jan. 21, 2017, in DeKalb, Ill. Laster provided the Bobcats with 14 points in 30 minutes of work off of the bench courtesy of a 5-of-9 shooting performance that included three treys.
The Huskies last visited Athens on Feb. 6, 2016, with Ohio prevailing over Northern Illinois, 80-69.
Saturday's game marks the lone regular season meeting between Ohio and Northern Illinois in 2018.
Ohio plays host to a second-straight MAC West Division foe when it welcomes Ball State to the Convo next Tuesday (Jan. 9) for a 7 p.m. ET matchup. The game will be streamed live on WatchESPN and the ESPN app.