Strong second half propels “The Pack” to victory

Maurice “Nature Boy” N’dour lead Ohio (10-3) to its tenth victory of the season over UNC-Ashville (6-8). Ohio defeated UNCA 79-70. The junior from Senegal finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds to achieve his second double-double of the season.

Maurice Ndour scored a career-high 24 points and pulled down 10 boards in Saturday's victory. (Carl Fonticella)

Maurice N’dour scored a career-high 24 points and pulled down 10 boards in Saturday’s victory. (Carl Fonticella)

“This game means a lot to us,” N’dour said on the Ohio IMG Sports Radio Network. “For us, it was a statement game.”

The Bobcats fell behind by as much as 15 in the first half to a UNC-Ashville attack that was led by Andrew Rowsey. Rowsey, a freshman, finished the game with 28 points, and his 5-6 start from beyond the arc had the Bulldogs ahead of the Bobcats 30-15 midway through the first half.

The turning point of the afternoon came when Bobcat senior Ricardo Johnson suffered what looked to be a serious right ankle injury with 9:25 remaining in the first. Johnson had to be carried off the court by his teammates and didn’t return for the rest of the game.

“He’s a very tough kid and he was in a lot of pain,” Ohio head coach Jim Christian said of Johnson. “Hopefully it’s not too serious because he’s put in so much time and effort this year.”

“This team wants to call themselves ‘The Pack.’ I told them at halftime, ‘The pack is wounded,'” Christian said.

The injury served as a rally cry for “The Pack.” The Bobcats outscored the Bulldogs 64-40 following the injury.

“Being ‘the pack’ means a lot. Today, at the beginning of the game, we came out slow and one of the pack got hurt. We felt like it was time to step up and play for him. We played for Ric J,” N’dour said.

After trailing 43-31 at halftime, Ohio opened up the second half on a 15-3 run to tie the game at 46 with 12:27 remaining.

Nick Kellogg had a huge game for the ‘Cats, tying a career high with 23 points and totaling 9 boards. Kellogg shot 7-12, including 3-6 from three.

“Kellogg was just a great senior. For the whole game, he was talking to guys in the huddle and at halftime, and he wanted the ball in big spots,” said Christian.

After the Johnson injury, senior T.J. Hall stepped up for the ‘Cats. He finished the game with 12 points and played a key part in the comeback by drawing fouls and getting to the line.

“(T.J.’s) role is gonna grow,” said Christian. “He was great today. He got in the lane and made some plays.”

The Bobcats’ victory gives them 10 non-conference victories for the third time in the past five seasons. Ohio opens MAC play when they travel to Kent State on Wednesday.

“We can’t wait to start playing the league,” said N’dour.

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