Christian returns to Kent for conference bout

After leading the Kent State Golden Flashes for six seasons, you would think that Ohio coach Jim Christian would know his way around the MAC Center. But there at least one spot in the arena Christian hasn’t ventured.

“I don’t even know where the visiting locker room is,” said Christian. “I’ll have to have someone show it to me.”

Christian will be coaching from that locker room Saturday night in his first trip back to Kent State (11-8, 2-3 MAC) since leaving the program in 2008. He brings with a Bobcat (14-5, 5-0 MAC) team that is playing its best basketball of the season.

With their 74-62 victory over Miami Wednesday night in Oxford, the Bobcats notched their sixth straight victory. The Bobcats hit twelve three-pointers and shot over 50 percent in a game that was not as close as the score indicated.

Reggie Keely is enjoying his finest season as a Bobcat. (Photo by Mark Clavin)

Reggie Keely is enjoying his finest season as a Bobcat. (Photo by Mark Clavin)

But the Bobcats have been getting done inside as well. Reggie Keely has been playing the best basketball of his career, shooting 68 percent on the season and averaging 11 points per game, and Ivo Baltic recorded Ohio’s first double-double of the season on Wednesday with 13 points and 12 rebounds.

“I thought he played a really smart game,” said Christian of Baltic’s performance Wednesday night. “He ran the floor and rebounded extremely well.”

“The guy I was guarding wasn’t crashing the offensive glass,” said Baltic. “I just came in and cleaned up, to be honest.”

That will not be the case on Saturday. The Flashes are a much better rebounding team than the RedHawks, and rank in the top third in the country in offensive rebounding.

Senior forward Chris Evans will lead the inside attack for Kent State. Averaging 17 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, the Bobcats will need another big game defensively from Walter Offutt. Last Saturday, Offutt held the MAC’s top scorer, Rian Pearson of Toledo, in check for most the game while frustrating him early.

In the backcourt, Ohio will need to find a way to stop senior Randal Holt. The 6’1” scoring point guard averages 14 points per contest. D.J. Cooper, who Christian has said has improved defensively throughout the season, will need to be on his game again.

Kent State forces an average of 15 turnovers a game. Ohio, who had turnover problems in road games against Memphis, UMass, Oklahoma, and Western Michigan, will need to relax and take care of the ball.

The Kent State fans, which haven’t seen an NCAA Tournament appearance since Christian’s departure, will be fired up and raucous for Saturday night’s game. As Christian put it after Wednesday’s game:

“They’ll be ready to play, take my word for it.”

Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. The game will be aired on ESPN 3.

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