Updated Sun, Jan 13, 2013 1:39 pm
It wasn’t pretty, but Ohio (11-5, 2-0 MAC) left Kalamazoo, Mi. on Saturday with their first road victory of the season in a 61-59 victory over Western Michigan (8-7, 0-2 MAC).
The Bobcats were up 60-55 when Western Michigan guard David Brown drove the basket and dished a beautiful pass to Shayne Whittington for a deuce. A blow from the ref’s whistle and the Bronco faithful went crazy. The basket was waived off, though, as Walter Offutt had taken a charge on Brown, giving the Bobcats possession with 59 seconds remaining in the game.
The momentum had shifted towards Ohio’s favor, as Offutt pumped his fist. The Bobcats did not take advantage, though. Reggie Keely (10 points) missed a jumper inside the paint on the other end, which gave Western Michigan a chance to narrow the five-point Ohio lead with 27 seconds left.
With Western Michigan’s chances ticking away, Keely did what Jim Christian didn’t want any of his players to do: foul. The 6-foot-9 senior picked up his fifth foul and sent Jared Klein (18 points) to the free throw line for two shots.
Klein, a freshman, hit both free throws with ease to narrow the gap to three with 19 seconds remaining.
Off the made free throws, Ohio guard D.J. Cooper (16 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists) received the inbounds pass and faced full court pressure by the Broncos. Unaware of the pressure when he turned, Cooper picked up his dribble and forced a pass back towards the baseline. Klein intercepted the pass and made the easy layup.
Within 12 seconds, the savvy freshman guard had narrowed the Ohio lead from five to one and the pressure was on the Ohio Bobcats. Cooper was fouled with six seconds left. The senior guard missed the first of his two foul shots, but calmly nailed his second to put Ohio up by two. Brown took the ensuing inbounds pass down the length of the court where his game-tying attempt was blocked by Ricardo Johnson with 1.1 seconds left. Johnson’s block landed out of bounds, giving Western Michigan one more shot to win or tie the game.
Brown received the inbounds pass once again and threw up a three-point prayer, but came up empty at the buzzer.
The win gave Ohio their first road win and their second win in the Mid-American Conference this season. The Bobcats’ struggles on the road continued, though.
Ohio shot a season-low 28.6% from beyond the three-point arc and 41.2% from the field. In a game where free throws were a big factor – 49 total fouls between both teams – Ohio shot just 59.1% from the free throw line.
"I'm not really a big field goal percentage guy. I'm a points guy. Let's not give up points," Christian said. "I think it's more of an energy level. We've played hard... I don't think there were any struggles on the offensive end. That's a good defensive (Western Michigan) team."
Amidst the Western Michigan comeback, Cooper hit Ivo Baltic down low to give Ohio the 60-55 lead with 1:20 left. The dime gave Cooper six on the night, which moved him to 824 for his career. The conference’s all-time leader in assists is now 24th in NCAA Division I history.
It’s rare to see Ohio win a basketball game where they had more turnovers than their opponent (16 to Western Michigan’s 11), but the Bobcats were able to win this close battle. Heading into Saturday’s game, Ohio averaged 11.7 steals in each of its wins. In their victory over Western Michigan, Ohio only managed two steals.
The Broncos took Ohio out of their typical run-and-gun game by limiting Ohio to a half-court grudge match, where the Bobcats only had two fast break points the entire game. In comparison against Buffalo, Ohio had 23 fast break points.
The Bobcats entered halftime up four points, even though the Broncos were shooting 24% from the field and only hit six shots the entire first half. Western Michigan was able to stay in the game with their free throws, hitting 11-of-15 on 12 Ohio fouls. With Keely, Jon Smith, and Baltic all facing foul trouble throughout the entire game, Christian relied on his role players to step up immensely.
"Coach always tells us to be ready, just forces that on us everyday, like you never know when you're going to have to step up," said T.J. Hall, who finished with nine points, including two big three-pointers for the Bobcats.
For the game, Western Michigan shot just 28.3% from the field, but their 76.5% free throw percentage kept them in the game.
The win puts Ohio at 11-5 on the year and 2-0 to start MAC play. Their next game will be Wednesday at home against Northern Illinois. Tipoff is set at 7 p.m. in The Convocation Center.