Bobcats overcome sloppy start, blast Chippewas

Just over one year ago, the Bobcats lost consecutive road games in Toledo and Eastern Michigan, falling to 7-4 in the MAC. Bobcat Nation was restless and frustrated – they would not remain that way for long.

Ohio went on to win 10 of its next 11 games en route to becoming the darling of March Madness, winning a program record 29 games.

After plane troubles caused the team to take the seven-hour bus ride up to Mt. Pleasant, it was one of those games that the Bobcats might have lost five years ago, but once again the mentally tough Bobcats rose to the occasion.

Ohio (18-6, 9-1) overcame a sloppy start and ran away from Central Michigan (9-15, 2-9) in the second half, winning 82-63.

The win helped the Bobcats keep pace with MAC-leading Akron (20-4, 11-0), who extended its nation leading winning streak to 16 after defeating Eastern Michigan 70-62.

Walter Offutt led Ohio with 17 points and eight rebounds, while Reggie Keely added 14 points and six boards.

The Bobcats used a 12-4 run early in the second half to take control and held a double-digit lead for the rest of the game. Ohio led by as many as 21 to earn their tenth win in their last 11 games.

But it wasn’t all rosy for the Cats. Ohio came out flat with six turnovers in the opening four minutes and looked to be out of sync offensively.

“We didn’t play focused in the first half. We were lethargic,” said Ohio coach Jim Christian.

The Chippewas couldn’t capitalize on the Bobcats’ slow start, turning it over on three consecutive possessions leading to a layup by Offutt and dunk for Keely to put Ohio on the board.

Offutt was able to capitalize against CMU’s 3-2 zone, knocking down three corner threes. The Bobcats were unable to sustain this play in the first half, often playing too fast for their own good. Ohio did score 14 points on the fast break, but it was thanks in large part to CMU mistakes. The Chippewas committed nine first turnovers and took some questionable shots.

Defensively, Ohio didn’t get back in transition and struggled to contain Kyle Randall, who came in second in the MAC in scoring at 17.2 points. The transfer from UNC-Greensboro scored 15 of the Chippewas 31 first half points and finished with a game-high 28 points.

Reggie Keely’s jumper at the buzzer gave Ohio a 35-31 halftime lead.

Ohio came out on fire in the second half. Three-pointers from Stevie Taylor, D.J. Cooper and Ricardo Johnson allowed the Bobcats to withstand three straight makes from CMU before Ohio was finally able to pull away.

A three-point play from Johnson gave Ohio a 49-41 lead to start the Bobcats ‘12-4 run, and after Jon Smith slammed home an Ivo Baltic miss, Johnson swished his second trey from the right corner to put Ohio up nine. Baltic knocked down a jumper from the top of the key and another Smith put back gave Ohio a 13-point lead with 12:15 remaining.

“I had to pick up the energy, that’s what I do best is bring energy & be able to produce when my number is called,” said Johnson, who filled the box score with 11 points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals.

Ohio’s bench was terrific, outscoring the CMU bench 31-15.

“I thought we got really good contributions from everybody that kind of came in. It’s one of those nights where energy’s not there and you need a bunch of different guys to supply it,” said Christian.

Cooper found the bottom of the net from NBA range to extend the lead to 68-49 and Ohio cruised to yet another road victory.  Cooper scored eight points and added three assists, upping his career total to 877 helpings, tied for 18 all-time.

With the win, the senior class of Cooper, Keely, Baltic, Offutt and David McKinley earned win number 88 at Ohio, becoming the winningest class in program history.

“If you want to build programs that sustain legacies, this is where it starts, with these guys,” said Christian of his seniors.

The seniors will try to add another win this Saturday when they return to the Convocation Center for an 11 a.m. matchup with Kent State (14-11, 5-6) on ESPNU. The Bobcats won the first meeting in a classic, 69-68, and are looking to sweep the Golden Flashes for the first time since the 2000-2001 season.

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