The score may read like a typical Ohio victory, but the Green and White needed some help from some unlikely heroes Saturday night.
The Bobcats (13-5, 4-0 MAC) defeated Toledo (6-9, 2-2 MAC) 76-67 on the back of a career-high 24 points from Reggie Keely. The senior forward was 9-9 from the field.
“Reggie’s been shooting the ball really well,” said forward Ivo Baltic. “Everyone on the team has a lot of confidence in him. I know he’ll knock it down.”
“I’m just trying to help my teammates by finishing their assists,” said Keely. “I take as much pride in the basket as giving someone an assist. Once you do that, they just look for you more and more and more.”
Keely performance was especially important due to Ohio’s poor shooting throughout the game. A normally stellar three-point attack went cold Saturday night, as the Bobcats shot only 4-17 from behind the arc.
“We had to find a way to win when some of our key components just didn’t play the way they normally play,” said Ohio coach Jim Christian. “In MAC play, if you want to be in the hunt, these are the ones you have to find a way to win.
The Bobcats struggled in the first half. Passive defense by Ohio forced only four turnovers allowed Toledo to shoot 57 percent from the field.
Down three points at halftime, Ohio came roaring out of the locker room with an 8-0 run to start the half.
“We responded in the second half,” said Christian. “We had six straight stops to start the half.”
Ohio would never relinquish its lead from that point forward, but the game wasn’t without drama. Ohio traded buckets with the Rockets through much of the second half and led by only four with five minutes remaining.
But Toledo, whose depth was limited because of injuries, began to get sloppy. With twelve minutes remaining, a Jon Smith block led to a two handed Baltic slam. A few seconds later, Offutt would steal an errant Rian Pearson pass for a layup of his own.
“I’m sure it did,” said Toledo coach Tod Kowalczyk when asked if fatigue was a factor in the number of turnovers.
But Toledo would not die. Timely three pointers and consistent scoring from Pearson would cut the lead to just four with five minutes remaining. Then, Stevie Taylor entered the game.
In the span of three possessions, Taylor would record a block, force a turnover, hit a three late in the shot clock and draw a charge on Toledo’s top scorer, Pearson.
“That sequence of events turned the game,” said Christian. “He’s playing with a lot of confidence, and he’s been working.”
Taylor was not the only Bobcat who provided a huge spark of the bench. Junior guard Ricardo Johnson pitched in for six rebounds and 13 points, a career high.
“Today he went after every ball,” said Christian. “Ric doesn’t say much but he plays so hard, and that’s all I care about. You know what you’re getting when he goes in the game.”
On defense, the Bobcats got to the MAC’s leading scoring, early and often. An early technical set the tone for Pearson’s night, as he would be in foul trouble the rest of the game. He would finish with 14 points and seven turnovers.
“He’s a hard guy to guard,” said Christian. “I thought Walt especially did a really good job of denying him the ball.”
“The whole team has improved, but more than anybody his defensive energy and effort have climbed,” said Christian. “Those types of things are why we won the game.”
The Bobcats will hit the road for their next two games, where they have struggled this season. Ohio is 1-4 away from the Convocation Center, but Christian is confident he can motivate his team.
“You can’t be satisfied or complacent in what you’re doing,” he said. “We just have to get everybody in a rhythm, especially now considering what’s facing us in the next couple of weeks.”
Ohio’s next test will be at Miami (OH), Wednesday at 7 p.m.