Maybe the cancellation of the original meeting between Eastern Michigan and Ohio on Jan. 30 was a blessing in disguise for the the Ohio Bobcat men’s basketball team.
Seniors D.J. Cooper and Reggie Keely inspired the Bobcats to a 73-50 thumping of Eastern Michigan at the Convocation Center on Wednesday night.
With the initial clash between these two conference rivals rescheduled due to an armed fugitive making a shock appearance in Athens, the ‘Cats (20-6, 11-1 Mid-American Conference) will now have less time to prepare for their BracketBuster showdown against Ohio Valley Conference powerhouse Belmont.
“It was a pace control type of game,” Ohio head coach Jim Christian said of tonight’s encounter. “We got the early lead, which we needed, and showed great intensity throughout the game. I’m glad to see us do that for 40 minutes.”
The ‘Cats are now only one game behind Akron for top spot in the MAC. The two titans of MAC basketball will play their much-anticipated rematch in the Convo in a week’s time.
Keely led all scorers with 20 points, and he collected four rebounds. Cooper added 16 points, 10 assists and five steals. The Chicago native has now moved into a tie for 13th place all-time with 894 assists and he is also 24th place all-time with 316 steals.
Guard J.R. Sims paced the Eagles with 12 points on 4-of-13 shooting. He also had two assists and two rebounds. Derek Thompson added nine points and former Arkansas Razorback Glenn Bryant chipped in seven points.
After Bryant made a three-pointer to give the Eagles a 3-2 lead, Ohio went on a 15-0 run and never trailed the rest of the way. Keely spoke about the quick start.
“It was important that we got established early in the game,” he said. “We wanted to keep being aggressive during the game and play unselfish basketball.”
One of the main reasons Ohio was able to claim a big win was the balance they established on offense. They may have only shot 30.4 percent from three (7-of-23), but they were 21-of-35 on two-point baskets (60 percent).
“We were trying not to get content with the three,” Cooper said. “We wanted to mix it up. We wanted to follow the game plan and attack them.”
Ohio had a 36-16 lead at the end of the first half. The Bobcats shot an impressive 57.7 percent from the field (15-of-26), compared to Eastern Michigan’s 29.2 percent from the field (7-of-24). Ohio scored 20 points in the paint, while Eastern Michigan only scored 6 points in the paint.
Early in the second half, the Eagles (12-14, 5-7 MAC) scored six of the first eight points of the half. Layups by Sims and Daylen Harrison cut Ohio’s lead to 16, 38-22, with 2:41 gone in the second stanza.
Cooper was able to give Ohio a 51-26 lead with two three-point bombs, and the lead increased to 27, 55-28, with jumpers from Stevie Taylor and Keely.
At the end of the contest, Nick Kellogg calmly hit two free throws, while David McKinley drained a three and Nick Goff made two free throws of his own to set up the MAC blockbuster with Akron.
Eastern Michigan head coach Rob Murphy spoke about Ohio’s exceptional play.
“Ohio played really well tonight,” Murphy said. “They were able to protect home court. We could not score early, which really hurt us. Reggie Keely played really well inside and D.J. Cooper shot well. They are a very good team.”
Cooper spoke about Ohio’s matchup with the Zips.
“We are looking forward to it,” he said. “We gave that game away, and I will make sure that does not happen again.”
Before the Bobcats play host to Akron, they will take part in the annual BracketBuster challenge. Ohio will travel to Belmont (21-6, 12-2 OVC), who is in first place in the Ohio Valley Conference. The ‘Cats and Bruins will face off Saturday, Feb. 23, at 10 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPN2.