Early barrage of 3s, stellar defense, key exhibition romp over Mercyhurst

Nick Kellogg hit four first half threes and the Ohio Bobcats ushered in new head coach Jim Christian with an 82-42 drubbing of Division II Mercyhurst in their one and only exhibition game.

Playing for the first time since their run to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament last March, the Bobcats were sloppy early on. They committed three turnovers in their first six possessions and looked out of sync, allowing Mercyhurst to stick around in the first five minutes.

“We got a little careless with the ball to start the game,” said Christian.

But as he did on many occasions last season, senior guard Walter Offutt took it upon himself to steady his team, hitting back-to-back threes out of the first television timeout spurring a 13-0 run and a 30-7 extended run to give the Bobcats a 40-17 halftime lead. Kellogg had four of the team’s seven first half treys while the defense was stellar, forcing 22 first half turnovers leading to several easy buckets in transition.

The Bobcats continued their dominance in the second half, scoring the first 11 points including a fancy behind-the-back-dish from Cooper to T.J. Hall for a two-handed rim rocker. The defense was aggressive forcing 31 turnovers and held the Lakers to 27.3 percent shooting for the game. Kellogg led a balanced offensive attack with 19 points on 7 of 9 shooting, while Reggie Kelly added 13 points off the bench and knocked down all seven of his free throw attempts. D.J. Cooper, the Bobcats all-time leader in assists and steals, chipped in seven points, nine assists and four steals.

“I think we have a lot of talented offensive players. As long we play right, it could be a different guy every night,” said Christian when asked about the scoring distribution. “I don’t think we need to rely on one scorer. We had 20 assists tonight, which is the goal.”

One concern was the 12 first half turnovers. The Bobcats seemed to be pressing and forcing things early, but settled down in the second half, committing just four turnovers. Christian said he was alarmed by the early sloppiness but was pleased with his team’s decision-making as the game progressed.

“I’m always going to be more concerned with the response than I am the action. The response was second half better job limiting turnovers. The pace of our play was better that’s all I wanted to see…we’re still moving forward and building and that’s all we care about.”

All twelve eligible Bobcats saw action, including Snow College transfer Travis Wilkins, who scored five points in 12 minutes.

With a season full of expectations and promise, Ohio was excited to finally get back to playing basketball.

“It felt really good to get out there. As a team as a unit again in front of our home fans it was great,” said Kellogg. “I think we’re picking up right where we left off. We’ll be ready next week.”

Ohio opens the season against Portland on Saturday afternoon at the Convocation Center.  The Bobcats defeated the Pilots last season 72-54 in Oregon behind a triple-double from Cooper.  The 2011-2012 team will be honored before the game with the unveiling of the Sweet 16 banner. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m.

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