If the Ohio men’s basketball team wants to reach the heights it did back in 2012, they will have to continue to put in strong defensive displays like they did in their first Mid-American Conference contest of the season.
The Ohio Bobcats (11-3, 1-0 MAC) got off to the perfect start in conference play with a credible 59-53 away victory against the Kent State Golden Flashes (9-5, 0-1 MAC) on Wednesday night.
“We had to win on the defensive end tonight,” Ohio head coach Jim Christian said in the Ohio IMG Sports Network post-game show. “We were getting good looks and making good decisions, but when you are not shooting well, you better find ways to win.”
The ‘Cats only shot 39.3 percent from the field in the contest (22 of 56), but their defense was the story of the night. The Green and White held the Golden Flashes to 28.3 percent shooting from the floor in the game (17 of 60).
“It’s about being hard-nosed (on defense),” Ohio senior guard Nick Kellogg said in the Ohio IMG Sports Network post-game show. “The guards playing well on defense is what we’re good at, and we made them take a lot of contested shots.”
Kellogg finished the game with 19 points, six rebounds and two assists. Maurice Ndour contributed nine points and five rebounds, and Travis Wilkins added eight points off the bench.
For Kent State, Devareaux Manley scored 13 points, Mark Henniger added 12 points and seven rebounds, and Kris Brewer chipped in with six points and seven assists.
The ‘Cats were trailing 44-42 with 7:46 left in the contest, and with defeat staring them right in the face, it was Wilkins, who received more playing time with the injury to senior forward Ricardo Johnson, who made the big shots.
Wilkins’ first three of the night from the right corner handed the Bobcats a one-point lead, and his second three of the game from the opposite side of the court lifted the visitors to a three-point lead, which they never relinquished.
“His (Wilkins’) threes were huge for us tonight,” Christian said. “It was a byproduct of him working hard in the gym.”
In the first half, the lead changed on 10 different occasions. On the 10th occasion, however, the Bobcats were able to gain some breathing room. Two jumpers and a three from Kellogg and a layup from Stevie Taylor propelled the Bobcats to a 24-17 lead with 2:13 remaining until halftime. Both teams added one more basket to make the score 26-19 in favor of the ‘Cats at halftime.
At halftime, the Bobcats held a 21-20 rebounding advantage. Both schools had five assists, but Ohio had five steals compared to Kent State’s one.
In the beginning of the second half, the Golden Flashes were able to do a better job of executing their offense. A Henniger dunk and a pair of free throws by Manley cut the Bobcats’ lead to two, and a layup by Chris Ortiz cut the Ohio lead to four, 36-32, with 14:20 left in the game.
“We have a lot of togetherness and understanding in the team,” Christian said. “When teams make their run, we are able to respond, and you have to have composure to do that.”
With another stellar performance in his back pocket, Kellogg continues to show that he is able and willing to be the Bobcats’ go-to player.
“It comes from growth and development,” Kellogg said. “Every player expands their game in the offseason, and it was something I needed to do.”
At the end of the game, Kent State held a 42-40 rebounding edge, and both teams ended up with 13 assists. Ohio registered eight blocks on the night, while Kent State only compiled four.
The Ohio Bobcats will play one more game before classes start again next week. The ‘Cats will welcome heated rival Akron (9-5, 1-0 MAC) to the Convocation Center on Sunday for a 6 p.m. tip. Christian knows this game carries added importance.
“All remaining 17 conference games are important, but that one is pretty big,” Christian said.