OXFORD, Ohio – “Whoa…..Christmas time,” was what Miami coach Charlie Coles said when he saw his player Michael Bramos get fouled from three feet beyond the three point line.
With six seconds to go and Xavier leading 57-56, Miami’s Michael Bramos calmly stepped to the free throw line and sunk three straight foul shots to put the RedHawks up 59-57. After taking a time out Xavier’s point guard Drew Lavender brought the ball up the length of the court and got a shot off as he drove toward the basket, but he could not get it to fall and Miami won the latest chapter of this storied rivalry.
Tonight’s match-up is the 95th meeting between the two Southwest Ohio schools with Xavier holding a 49-46 advantage in the series. The series started in 1922 with Miami winning 37-20 and it has been a tough series ever since.
Tonight it is the first game of the year for Miami and they are just starting a tough journey through a killer pre-conference schedule that includes all the local teams in Southwest Ohio.
In tonight’s game to sweeten the victory for Miami, Xavier is ranked 25th in both the AP and Coaches Poll. The RedHawks will also play Dayton, Wright State and Cincinnati. Dayton and Wright State are contenders for their conference title while UC is expected to show improvement over last year, their first losing record in 18 years.
Miami is the only Southwest Ohio school to play all the other schools in Southwest Ohio. They can do this because they have a tradition of playing the other schools that goes back in some cases to the beginning of the century and because Coles thinks that local schools should play each other.
Miami also has games scheduled against USC, Louisville, Illinois and Kansas.
Xavier’s pounded Southeast Missouri State 90-59 in their first game last Saturday. The Musketeers’ pre-conference schedule is brutal as they play Kent State, Creighton, Cincinnati, Arizona State, Tennessee, Kansas State, Virginia and Auburn.
Could you imagine Syracuse playing this kind of schedule?
Tonight’s game is unique in that you have some coaching connections in play. Xavier coach Sean Miller and Coles coached together as assistants at Miami during the 1994-95 season. Xavier second year assistant coach James Whitfield spent 11 seasons at Miami including 10 seasons under Coles before joining Miller’s staff prior to last season. Xavier Director of Basketball Operations Bill Coma spent time at Miami as an academic coordinator and administrative assistant.
As Xavier has gotten better and become a consistently ranked national program it would have been understandable by today’s standards if they didn’t want to go up to oxford to play anymore. But with a nod to tradition and with credit to Sean Miller, Xavier has kept this home and home rivalry going.
Former Xavier great Byron Larkin thinks the key to this rivalry is that many of the players know each other and play against each other, plus a lot of fans of both teams live near each other and work together.
“You want to win because when you see that person (Miami fan) the next day at work you want to tell them that ‘we got you’ and that really feels good,” explained Larkin.
The series doesn’t mean quite as much to Xavier as it did when Larkin was playing since they have become more of a national program. So this game is still one that Xavier wants to win, but in reality it is still just another game on their way to a run in the NCAA Tournament.
“We are in a better league now and our sights are a little higher. Our goals our different than they once were,” said Larkin. “The goal now is to win a national championship and that wasn’t always the goal at Xavier. When I was at Xavier we didn’t win a single NCAA Tournament game.”
A man who has played a lot of these local rivalry games is former Wright State coach Jim Brown who also played at University of Dayton and was in attendance tonight.
The rivalry games were so important to Dayton back when Brown played that the Brothers would come in and talk to the players about the importance of the game. It was a lot a different game.
“Just look at the crowd and it will tell you a little about how much the fans like this game. It was a heck of basketball game to watch,” said Brown who still was pumped ten minutes after the game ended.
Brown agreed with Larkin that the kids all know each other and it adds to the intensity of the game and the fans seem to know a lot of the opposing fans too.
“I think that is what makes a rivalry, it is the fans. In my row up there were two Miami fans and two Xavier fans. I think that is kind of neat.”
After the game the Miami fans led by the students, rushed the court and started what would be a five minute celebration in the middle of the court. As the players left the court the students lined their exit route, screaming and shaking their hands.
Coles is thrilled to play Xavier having played against them when he played at Miami, this is a special game to him.
“Xavier is one of the great basketball programs, for them to play us home and home means a whole lot to me. Sean Miller is one of the few coaches in the country and Xavier is one of the few institutions in the country that will do it (play home and home every year),” explained Coles. We are very fortunate to have that.”
Coles realizes that Xavier has taken their program to a different levels from the days when he played or even since he started coaching at Miami in 1996.
“We will win some every now and then. Most of the time with their great recruiting, they probably have an edge on us. But we like playing them. You saw the crowd, there was great enthusiasm.”
Coles thinks the long history adds to the rivalry too. He played against them seven times in the three years he played at Miami and each time it was a thrill.
Xavier Coach Sean Miller pointed to playing against Coles’ team and the how tough it is to beat the RedHawks as key factors that make this rivalry special.
Miller said, “Miami has a great coach and good person in Charlie Coles and I respect him a great deal. It is clearly a game that we respect, anytime we come to Millett Hall it is tough, it has always been tough.”
Miami fans get to enjoy bragging rights tomorrow at work and the Xavier fans have to take a little good old ribbing.
That is what these traditional rivalry games are all about and hopefully it will be about it for many years to come.