ATHENS, Ohio -- The Ohio men's basketball team (7-5, 0-0 MAC) begins its 72nd season of Mid-American Conference play when it travels to Mount Pleasant, Mich., to square off with West Division foe Central Michigan (11-2, 0-0 MAC) on Tuesday (Jan. 2). The opening tip is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET at McGuirk Arena.
Tuesday's game will be streamed live on WatchESPN and the ESPN app, with Adam Jaksa and Matt DeVries on the call. The contest will also be broadcast on the Ohio IMG Sports Network, with 'Voice of the Bobcats' Russ Eisenstein and Rob Cornelius on the call. Radio pregame coverage is set to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET with 'Countdown To Tipoff.'
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.
LET THE #MACTION BEGIN
Ohio enters the 2018 edition of league play with a 579-451 (.562) all-time record in the MAC. The Bobcats have won 10 MAC regular season titles, with the last coming in 2012-13.
Ohio is 40-31 (.563) all-time in MAC openers. Last year, the Bobcats began the 2017 league campaign by cruising to an 89-58 victory over West Division foe Western Michigan on Jan. 3 at the Convo.
Ohio last opened conference play on the road in 2016, with the Bobcats falling to West Division foe Northern Illinois, 80-69, on Jan. 6 in DeKalb, Ill.
Under Phillips, Ohio is 1-2 in conference openers. Phillips owns a three-year MAC record of 27-27 (.500) as the head coach at Ohio.
Ohio is holding the opposition to a 41.7 percent field goal percentage in 2017-18, which is good for third among MAC teams. Opponents are shooting just 30.8 percent from beyond the arc, which ranks first among MAC teams and 43rd 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 nine games this year with a lower leg injury. The Bobcats have been depleted in the frontcourt as freshman forwards A.J. Gareri (Akron, Ohio) and Ben Vander Plas (Ripon, Wis.) are working their way back from upper arm and lower leg injuries, respectively, and have yet to appear in a game this season. 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 senior Mike Laster (Detroit, Mich.) 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 15.8 points per game to lead the team and is shooting 49.3 percent (70-of-142) from the field to rank second on the squad. He has reached double figures in nine games this year to rank second on the team -- including each of his last eight games played -- and has led the Bobcats in scoring a team-high six times.
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 29 games, Laster is averaging 10.7 points per game and is shooting 52.3 percent from the field.
ROOKIE PLAYING LIKE A VET
Freshman guard Teyvion Kirk (Joliet, Ill.) has impressed through his first 12 games as a Bobcat. Starting at point guard in every contest, he is averaging 14.3 points per game to rank third on the team and is shooting 44.9 percent (61-of-136) 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, 3.5 assists and 1.2 steals 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 last Friday (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 11.6 points per game and is shooting a team-best 56.1 percent (46-of-82) from the floor. He set a career high with 17 points in his first career start as a Bobcat in Sunday's 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 10 games played for Ohio in 2017-18 -- including each of the last four contests. In 63 games at Florida Gulf Coast, he reached double digits just three times.
For his two-plus year Ohio career, Dartis averages 11.7 points per game and is a 45.1 percent shooter -- including a program-record 44.5 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.
After finishing a rebound short of a double-double with 12 points and nine boards to go along with a game-high five assists in 35 minutes in the win over Alabama A&M in the season opener, junior guard/forward Gavin Block (Lincoln, Ill.) averaged 15.0 points and 2.7 assists to rank second on the team and 7.7 rebounds to lead the team over three games at the Charleston Classic. He scored a career-high 22 points to lead all scorers and achieved his first career double-double with a career-high 10 rebounds to lead the team in addition to logging an assist and a steal in 34 minutes of work against Clemson. He then just missed out on a second-straight double-double with 14 points and a team-high nine boards in addition to distributing a team-high four assists in 34 minutes of work against Dayton.
Through 12 games this season, Block ranks fifth on the squad with 9.8 points per game and leads the team with 3.6 assists per game. His 4.4 rebounds per game are good for third on the squad.
GOLLON GETTING HOT
Over the last six contests, redshirt sophomore guard James Gollon (Stevens Point, Wis.) is averaging 9.5 points per game off of the bench for the Bobcats.
CASHING IN FROM THE FREE THROW LINE
Ohio emerged victorious over the Hilltoppers 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.
Heading into Sunday's clash with Western Kentucky, the Bobcats ranked eighth among MAC teams and 153rd nationally at the free throw line with a 71.2 percent success rate. Ohio now ranks fourth among conference teams and 58th nationally with a 74.4 percent free throw percentage.
SCOUTING THE CHIPPEWAS
Central Michigan won 11 of its 13 2017-18 non-conference games and enters Tuesday's MAC opener having won three in a row, including a 92-86 overtime triumph over at UMKC on Dec. 19 and a 70-52 win over SIU Edwardsville three days later in Mount Pleasant.
Keno Davis is in year six as head coach of the Chippewas. Central Michigan went 16-16 in 2016-17 and finished last in the MAC West Division with a 6-12 league mark. The Chippewas are being challenged to replace the prodution of the dynamic guard combo of Marcus Keene (30.0 points per game) and Braylon Rayson (21.2 points per game). The Chippewas were picked to finish sixth in the 2017-18 MAC preseason poll.
The Chippewas enter league play ranking as the best defensive unit in the MAC. Central Michigan is first in the conference in both opponent points per game (65.4; 40th in the country) and opponent field goal percentage (39.2 percent; 36th in the country) and also ranks second in opponent three-point field goal percentage (32.1 percent; 77th in the country). The Chippewas get after on the glass, tying for first among MAC teams and 71st nationally with a +5.0 rebounding margin. Central Michigan also takes advantage of its opportunities when it gets to the free throw line, ranking first in the country with an 80.7 percent free throw percentage.
Senior forward Cecil Williams is Central Michigan's top scorer, averaging a team-high 15.2 points per game and shooting 51.9 percent (67-of-129) from the field. Junior guard Shawn Roundtree averages 14.7 points and a team-high 4.2 assists per game while sophomore forward David DiLeo is averaging 14.0 points per game and a team-high 7.7 boards per contest. Roundtree has converted on 52 of his 59 free throw attempts (88.1 percent) this year. Three other Chippewas average at least eight points per game -- sophomore guard Kevin McKay (8.5), junior guard Gavin Peppers (8.2) and senior forward Luke Meyer (8.1). Meyer is shooting a team-best 53.2 percent (41-of-77) from the floor.
Tuesday marks the 75th all-time meeting between Ohio and Central Michigan, with the Bobcats holding a 45-29 (.608) advantage in the series.
The Chippewas have taken all four of the previous meetings from the Bobcats since Phillips became head coach at Ohio, though, including a 97-87 win on Feb. 7, 2017, in the lone matchup between the two programs last year. Keene (41 points) and Rayson (21) combined to tally 62 of Central Michigan's 97 points in that contest. Dartis scored 21 points for Ohio off of five three-pointers and six made free throws while Block chipped in 15 thanks in large part to a 7-of-8 effort from the charity stripe.
Ohio's last win over Central Michigan came on Jan. 29, 2014, in Athens -- a 71-67 victory for the Bobcats. The Bobcats last won a game in Mount Pleasant on Feb. 13, 2013, posting an 82-63 triumph over the Chippewas.
Ohio is 1-2 all-time against Central Michigan in MAC openers. The Bobcats and Chippewas last faced off in the MAC lid lifter on Jan. 5, 1991 -- a 70-42 win for Central Michigan in Mount Pleasant. Ohio also dropped a 64-58 decision at Central Michigan in the opening game of league play on Jan. 10, 1981. The Bobcats' lone win over the Chippewas in a MAC opener came on Jan. 3, 1976, at the Convo -- an 86-74 triumph for Ohio.
Ohio and Central Michigan will meet again on Feb. 3 in a 3:30 p.m. ET contest at the Convo.
Ohio welcomes MAC West Division foe Northern Illinois on Saturday (Jan. 6) for a 3:30 p.m. ET contest at the Convo. The game will be streamed live on WatchESPN and the ESPN app.