Updated Thu, Feb 23, 2012 12:44 am
Coming off back-to-back home wins, Ohio took its recent good play on the road--defeating the Buffalo Bulls Wednesday night, 88-77, at Alumni Arena. The win moves Ohio (22-6, 9-4) into a three-way tie for 2nd place in the MAC with Buffalo (16-9, 9-4) and Kent St. (19-8, 9-4).
If Ohio continues to play the way it has during this three game roll, the 'Cats won't be sitting in a tie for long.
Led by Walter Offutt's game and career-high 23 points, on 8-of-13 shooting, the Bobcats blitzed their way past the Bulls with a 51 point 2nd half. The 2nd half out-burst turned a five point halftime lead into a 19 point laugher in the final minutes.
"Heck of a win for our ball club," Groce said afterwards. "its not easy to come in here and win. I thought our offense was as good as its been all year tonight. I thought we were really hitting on all cylinders."
"I feel like everybody right now is going up," Offutt said afterwards. "That's what Coach Groce talks about. We're peaking right now in February and that's good."
Offutt's onslaught wasn't a solo act as D.J. Cooper continued his great play of late, scoring 20 points with a game-high eight assists. This was the second straight eight assist game for Cooper who is now just 15 helpers away from setting Ohio's all-time assists record.
"We know what we're playing for," Cooper said afterwards deflecting any personal attention toward his stellar play. "We're playing for a lot of things and we know we gotta bring our 'A' game every game we play from this point on. Nobody cares who gets the credit. Everyone's just playing together and all we care about is getting the win."
Ohio certainly had plenty of praise to go around after this win.
Joining Offutt and Cooper in double-figure scoring was Nick Kellogg with 15 points. Kellogg sparked Ohio's 2nd half barrage with an incredible eight point stretch in the half's opening minutes, which turned a 39-39 tie into a 47-39 Ohio advantage. The sophomore guard hit a 3-pointer to break the tie, then hit two free throws the next possession. He followed that up with a steal, and an acrobatic, fast-break lay-up while absorbing contact from Buffalo's Dave Barnett for a hoop and harm. Following Kellogg's and-one free throw, Ohio was suddenly up eight and never looked back.
"We did a good job of sharing the basketball," Groce said. "This is something for us to build on for sure down the stretch, this is a great time of year to get any road win."
On the night, Ohio shot only 38.7% from the field. A number not usually indicative to an 88 point performance. But similar to Ohio's first game with Buffalo on January 11, the Cats continually stole extra possessions by out-rebounding the Bulls. The Cats finished with a 42-34 rebounding edge, including 21-10 on the offensive glass. Especially impressive considering Buffalo entered the contest ranked 3rd nationally in rebounding margin.
"Our guys have a lot of respect for them on the back board," Groce said. "But I thought we went really hard tonight. Any time you can get extra possessions on the glass and win the possession battle you give yourself a good chance. We were able to do those things tonight at a really high level."
Before the game, coach Groce challenged his players 'adaptability' when the team learned it'd be without guard and team 'glue-guy' Ricardo Johnson because of back spasms.
Answering the bell was T.J. Hall who played extended minutes and gave the team a huge lift with nine points and nine rebounds in 24 solid minutes of play.
"T.J. was terrific," Groce lauded afterwards. "Nine points, nine rebounds, with zero turnovers. I thought our guys' adapted well (to no Ricardo) and they came with a no excuses approach which i was proud of."
By joining Buffalo and Kent St. at 9-4 in the MAC, Ohio jumps from 4th place into a tie for 2nd. But, if the season ended today, the Cats would hold the tie breaker over both teams courtesy of their 3-0 head-to-head record between the teams. This is important because the top two seeds receive byes in the conference tournament all the way to the semi-finals under the new tournament layout. An advantage coaches around the league are still unsure of.
"It'd be interesting if you polled the coaches on where they want to be," Groce said referring to the new tournament bracket. "Some coaches like to play in the arena before the other team does. But you know its six one way, half-dozen another, we're just trying to finish as high as we can and take it one game at a time."
Next up: Ohio's hot play of late will be put the test in a showdown with the MAC's top team, Akron. The Zips hold a commanding edge in the league standings with a 12-1 league mark. Tip time is set for 8 p.m. Sunday night at the Convo. The game will be televised on ESPNU. Afterwards, woub.org/sports will stream its 3rd live post-game show with highlights, analysis, and sound from players and coach.