Updated Sat, Nov 3, 2012 8:00 pm
The Ohio Bobcats defeated the Mercyhurst Lakers 82-42 in their lone exhibition contest before the start of the 2012-13 regular season at home Saturday.
The Bobcats returned to action seven months after falling in overtime to No. 1 Seed North Carolina in the Sweet 16 on the NCAA Tournament. With high expectations surrounding a group that held almost its entire roster together from the most successful team in program history, new head coach Jim Christian and the players were finally able to go play basketball in front of their fans again.
“It was great, this might have been the biggest crowd we had in four years at TCU,” said Christian about the support Ohio received from over 4,600 fans at the Convocation Center Saturday. “We have a very mature group of guys…it’s a fun group to coach, it’s a great group to be around.”
Nick Kellogg led the ‘Cats offensively with 19 points, converting five of seven three-point attempts.
Redshirt senior Walter Offutt added 10 points while senior Reggie Keely chipped in 13 points off the bench. Ohio career assists and steals leader D.J. Cooper only attempted five field goals, scoring seven points, and picked up nine assists and four steals.
“He understands the flow of the game,” said Christian. “When we’re at our best, he’s going to be able to create a lot of plays for people on the court, as well as himself. I think that’s what makes him a special player.”
Ohio played sloppy offensively to begin the game, struggling to take care of the ball early on; the Bobcats committed 11 of their 12 first-half turnovers before the under-8:00 timeout. Forward Jon Smith committed Ohio’s first five turnovers before the 13:00 mark in the first half. Christian was much more pleased with his team’s second half effort, though, as Ohio limited its mistakes and committed just four second-half turnovers.
“I’m always going to be more concerned with the response than the action,” said Christian about Ohio’s early carelessness with the ball. “The pace of our play in the second half was better, that’s all I wanted to see. As long as we can see that, we’re still moving forward and building, and that’s all we care about.”
While the Bobcats struggled with turnovers early, they were still able to take control of the game with relentless intensity on defense. Ohio held Mercyhurst to 27 percent shooting and forced 32 Laker turnovers—22 in the first half—scoring 36 points as a result of those takeaways.
“I thought the effort on defense was great. I thought the communication we had on defense was great, and obviously we played aggressively,” said Christian.
Ohio’s rotation remains very much the same. The starting five of Cooper, Offutt, Kellogg, Jon Smith and Ivo Baltic returns. Keely and T.J. Hall provide scoring off the bench, and Stevie Taylor and Ricardo Johnson spell the starting guards.
One new addition to the rotation this season is Travis Wilkins, a junior transfer from Snow College. Wilkins had a relatively quiet debut for the Bobcats, scoring five points on 1/5 shooting with three steals in 12 minutes, but he provides Ohio with another spot-up shooter in the second unit.
Ohio begins its official season next Saturday at home against Portland. Before the game, Ohio’s 2011-12 Sweet-16 squad will be honored. But with the weapons and experience Ohio has, Offutt believes the 2012-13 team is poised for similar success.
“(Our) first real goal is a MAC regular season title,” said Offutt. “We have a lot of seniors…(we can’t) worry about stats, (we can’t) worry about who’s scoring the most points. It’s going to take care of itself.
“If we learn to accept that role, the sky is the limit for us and we’re going to be right back where we were with a chance to go to the elite eight like we (were) last time.”