Updated Sat, Feb 2, 2013 2:54 pm
This season has had its fair share of ups and downs for the Ohio Bobcats (15-5, 6-0 MAC). Despite some rocky play at times throughout the year and a difficult month of December, one thing has remained tired and true for the ‘Cats all season—Reggie Keely.
“Without question he's been in a good rhythm,” Ohio head coach Jim Christian said when asked about Keely’s effect on the team’s recent success “He's playing really, really well… I'm not surprised by any of it.”
During a rough stretch of games for Ohio in a month that saw the team go 2-5, Keely made his first start of the season against Maryland-Eastern Shore on Dec. 22. Since then the big man has helped right the Bobcats’ course by putting up impressive numbers night in and night out. Ohio is 8-1 during the nine games Keely has started and is in a neck-and-neck race with Akron (16-4, 7-0 MAC) for first place in the MAC standings.
A big reason for the team’s success in that span has been Keely’s offensive improvement this season.
Often overlooked as an offensive threat, Keely currently is second on the team in scoring, averaging 11.5 points per game. A career 49 percent shooter from the field heading into the season, the senior has hit an eye-popping 71 percent from the field since cracking the starting lineup. Keely is currently hitting 68.9 percent of his shots from the field; good enough to put him in a tie with Stephen F. Austin senior forward Taylor Smith for third overall in NCAA scoring efficiency.
Keely will tell you a lot of his success comes down to consistently being in the right place when fellow Bobcat D.J. Cooper is looking for someone to dish the ball to. Cooper is having a phenomenal season in his own right as he ascends the NCAA leaderboards in a plethora of categories, but there’s no denying how valuable Keely’s ability to consistently find an open spot down low and make what he calls “easy buckets” has been to Cooper and Ohio’s recent success.
“They're both what the other guy needs to be able to be successful. They mean everything (to one another); they work well together,” assistant coach Aaron Fuss said of Keely and Cooper’s chemistry. “He's been doing a really good job of being physical at the basket. I know that sounds really simple but when you've got a guy like D.J. Cooper who is such a great passer then sometimes it's in your best interest to just be down there and be available ... I think Reggie's done a great job of buying in, watching film and understanding where those windows are to become a better player,”
“I'm just trying to get (layups) as much as I can, every opportunity that I can and find the easy shot,” Keely said on his consistency in the paint. He said finding easy opportunities has a lot to do with his high field goal percentage.
Keely, a member of the same 2009 class that included Cooper and fellow forward Ivo Baltic, has always been a consistent contributor. Since his freshman season Keely has averaged no less than 16 minutes and 5 points per game. Coaches know what they’re going to get from him when he steps on the court; he rarely has a bad night.
Now, though, Keely’s average nights are better than ever before. His increased offensive production has boiled down to a lot of hard work over the years, according to Fuss, the only member of the Ohio coaching staff that was with the team in 2009 when Keely came in a wide-eyed freshman.
“I think he still had a lot of the same skill sets that he has now but you know it's just when you come in as a freshman everything is new,” Fuss said. “You know his muscle mass; it's different now than it was as a freshman. When you take those skills that you already have and then, to be a really good post player a lot of it is how your body develops. You're down there, you're banging. You've got to play physical.”
Keely has been grinding every day since he first stepped on campus. When Ohio takes on Akron Saturday afternoon it will mark the 130th consecutive game the big fella has played in since the very first game of his freshman season. It’s that work ethic combined with his toughness that have allowed him to be so successful in the post this season.
“He's a very tough player for sure. He seeks contact,” Fuss said. “I've always used the term you're either a ‘seeker’ or you're a ‘finder’. Sometimes it's going to find you. Sometimes you're going to seek it. In terms of contact, he's one of those guys that’s a seeker for us, and that's big.”
Keely has been crucial to an Ohio team that lacks a significant post presence. The team ranks 311th in the nation in rebounding, but with Keely stepping up and finding open looks in the paint, the ‘Cats are able to succeed despite some subpar team performances on the glass.
Making smart decisions on the court, getting open and “just running as hard as I can and trying to outwork guys down the floor” are the things Keely credits for his improvements this season. While he’s not likely to put up 30 points in a game, he isn’t likely to go 0-for from the field either.
It’s Keely’s consistent, steady performance that has allowed him to be so successful this season.
Considering his track record, don’t expect that to change anytime soon.