When Jim Christian was unveiled as the new Ohio men’s basketball coach on April 3, many Kent State supporters circled January 26, 2013, on their calendars knowing that was the day their former hero would make his long-awaited return to Kent State after six successful seasons in charge of the men’s basketball team.
Two prominent players Christian inherited from the John Groce regime, D.J. Cooper and Reggie Keely, made sure that Christian’s inaugural return to Kent would be a memorable one.
The Ohio men’s basketball team extended their winning streak to a season-high seven games with an important 69-68 road victory over Mid-American Conference division rival Kent State.
The Bobcats (15-5, 6-0 MAC) have won their first six conference games for the first time since the 1973-1974 season. They have also won their first three conference road contests for the first time in 20 years.
“It was a great 40 minutes of basketball tonight,” Ohio coach Jim Christian said during the Bobcat postgame show. “Kent played really hard knowing that their backs were against the wall. The stop we made with about one minute to go was huge.”
Cooper was the inspirational leader for the Bobcats on this occasion. The Chicago native scored 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting, dished out five assists and had three steals.
“It is really hard to win games on the road in MAC play,” said Cooper. “If we want to win the conference, we have to win games on the road.”
Senior forward Reggie Keely added 20 points and three rebounds for Ohio, and junior guard Nick Kellogg chipped in with 10 points.
Kent State (11-9, 2-4 MAC) is reeling at the wrong time. They have now lost three straight games, and fall four games behind Ohio in the MAC East division. Chris Evans scored 20 points for the Golden Flashes, and Randal Holt chipped in with 14 points of his own.
Early on in the contest, both teams traded punches. Walter Offutt’s three-point make and Keely’s layup gave Ohio a 7-6 lead with 15:55 remaining in the first half.
Kent State countered with three-point baskets from Holt and Evans to hand Kent State a 15-14 lead with 11:22 left in the first half.
The intensity of the game got to Cooper, who received a technical foul with 6:43 left until halftime. Holt was only able to make one out of two from the free-throw line to tie the game at 22.
Kent State held a 33-32 lead and had the last possession of the first half. Holt was able to drain a deep three-pointer to give the Golden Flashes a little momentum and a 36-32 lead at intermission.
Even though they trailed at the break, Ohio was able to shoot 50 percent from the field (14-of-28) and they had seven assists compared to Kent’s six. The Golden Flashes scored twelve points off of Ohio turnovers, while the Bobcats scored only four points off of Kent State turnovers.
The second half brought much of the same. Keely scored the first seven points of the second half to guide Ohio to a 39-38 lead with 2:19 gone in the second stanza.
Another Holt three-point bomb and a Kris Brewer jumper gave the lead back to Kent, 44-39, with 16:39 left.
In most cases, Cooper usually gets Ohio out of deficits with his passing, but tonight, he relied on his shooting.
Ohio went on a 14-2 run, thanks in part to a pair of Cooper jumpers and a deep three-point make. Ohio held a 53-46 lead with 11:18 remaining.
The ’Cats were able to extend the lead to eight, 60-52, courtesy of a Ricardo Johnson jumper and Nick Kellogg finger roll.
Kent State had one more run in them, this time an 11-0 run to reclaim the lead, 63-60 with 4:43 left in the contest.
“We knew they had runs in them,” said Cooper. “They are a good young ball club and it is tough to come here and win.”
Ohio was down 68-67 with 55 seconds left, and Cooper was fouled on a layup attempt. He stepped up to the line and hit two clutch free throws to hand Ohio a 69-68 lead, the 20th lead change of the night.
“When we were down four with under four minutes to play, what impressed me the most was the team never panicked,” said Christian. “This was a huge win for us.”
After Cooper missed a three-pointer to seal the win, Holt went into the lane, and his floater hit the back of the iron, and Kent State is left to wonder how they let one slip away.
Cooper spoke about Ohio’s next game, a home clash with Eastern Michigan.
“We know they are going to try and slow the game down,” said Cooper. Whoever can push the tempo will win the game.”
The Ohio men’s basketball team will look to win their eighth consecutive game when they play host to the Eastern Michigan Eagles on Wednesday, January 30, at the Convocation Center. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.