Ohio coach Jim Christian’s inaugural return to Kent State will be one that he never forgets.
With the Bobcats down by one with 55 seconds left, Ohio star D.J. Cooper calmly buried two free throws to give the ‘Cats a 69-68 lead.
After Cooper missed a three to ice the game, Kent State guard Randal Holt drove into the lane, put up a floater in the dying seconds and the ball clanged off the back of the rim to hand Ohio an important 69-68 win on Jan. 26.
Cooper and company will hope the game in Athens between these two Mid-American Conference East rivals will be decided long before the end.
The Ohio Bobcats (18-6, 9-1 MAC) will be hoping to complete a regular season sweep of the Kent State Golden Flashes (14-11, 5-6 MAC) when they face off on Saturday at 11 a.m. in the Convocation Center.
Senior forward Reggie Keely scored 20 points and collected three rebounds and Cooper added 23 points and five assists in the last-gasp victory for Ohio at the end of January.
On the other side, senior forward Chris Evans scored 20 points and added four rebounds and seven assists. Senior guard Randal Holt failed in his attempt to play hero for the Golden Flashes, but he chipped in with 14 points, three rebounds and two assists.
Kent State comes into the game winners of three of their last four games. They have won those games by an average of 15.7 points per game and in their 87-70 victory against Miami on Wednesday, Evans scored 22 points and collected 13 rebounds.
For the Bobcats to win their fourth straight contest, they will need to contain both Evans and Holt. The guard-forward combination combines for 31 of Kent State’s 71 point per game average. If those two cannot carry the load for the Golden Flashes, then guards Kris Brewer and Darren Goodson will have to take on more of a scoring load, which will put the game in the Bobcats’ favor.
Ohio will also need balanced scoring from a number of players to grab win number 19 on the season. In the first matchup, Walter Offutt, Nick Kellogg and Ivo Baltic combined for 13 points on 5-of-19 shooting. Those three in particular will need to take the pressure off of Cooper and Keely. If that can happen, Kent State will have to focus their attention on many players, not just two.
Rob Senderoff is in his second season as the head coach of the Golden Flashes. He has a 35-23 record in Northeast Ohio.