Updated Sat, Feb 9, 2013 8:44 pm
The Ohio Bobcats returned home for their first home game in three weeks and downed the Bowling Green State Falcons in a hard fought battle, 72-63. The ‘Cats won their second straight contest, improving to 17-6 overall and 8-1 in the Mid-American Conference.
All game the teams fought hard for possession, with each team refusing to let the other go on any sort of substantial run. The physicality reached a peak with just under six minutes left in the game. Ohio guard Walter Offutt drew a charge from Falcons guard Jevhon Clarke, taking an elbow to the eye in the process. Offutt hit the ground hard and after several minutes on the ground left the game with a nasty cut above his right eye. Offutt wouldn’t return to the game, but the ‘Cats would hold on and finally put the scrappy Falcons away.
“When you’re in mid-February you’ve got to find a lot of different ways to win games,” Ohio coach Jim Christian said. “(We) found a way to win the game. That’s what you have to do this time of year.”
For the second straight game, Christian decided to go with T.J. Hall over Ivo Batlic in the starting lineup, which proved beneficial as both big men turned in valuable performances.
Reggie Keely put the ‘Cats on the board early with a layup off the fast break just 48 seconds into the game. Ohio’s defense forced early turnovers and poor shots by a Bowling Green team that entered the game shooting just 41 percent as a whole.
The Falcons were hitting just 29 percent from the field in the first four and a half minutes, giving Ohio the decisive advantage on the boards. But despite the Falcons sloppy start, they soon hit a groove, nailing 44 percent of their shots over the next four minutes.
Bowling Green sophomore forward Richaun Holmes tied the game at 12 with at the 13:30 mark in the half on an easy jumper from six feet out. Over the next two minutes the teams traded blows back and forth keeping the game close.
At the 11:36 mark, Ohio’s Stevie Taylor weaved coast-to-coast into the lane, getting fouled on the play, and laid it in for two. He nailed the free throw to put Ohio up 17-14 and spark a 9-2 run over the next three minutes.
But Bowling Green and its prolific little point guard Jordon Crawford, who stands just 5-foot-6, refused to give Ohio any slack. Crawford was able to end Ohio’s run on a deep 3 with 8:49 left, cutting the lead to just four.
Ohio’s bench was a factor early.
Nine players saw at least five minutes of action in the first half, and 10 saw the floor. The quick pace wasn’t enough to allow Ohio to separate or really settle into a groove. The Falcons always seemed to find a way to claw their way back in the game, thanks in large part to the impressive playmaking ability of Crawford. The guard would help bring the Falcons to within 1 with 5:28 left in the half on a pretty alley-oop to Holmes.
Ohio and Cooper, who narrowly missed another double double—he had 10 points and eight assists—would quickly put Ohio up 32-26 after a 5-0 run that saw the senior point guard drain a three from the top of the arc and find Baltic from twenty feet out a few seconds later. Ohio’s smothering backcourt defense forced a five-second violation from the Falcons with just under four minutes left in the half.
However, despite the Falcons sloppy shot selection and mistakes on the court, the impressive play of Crawford kept them right in the game. The point guard once again stunned the crowd when he found a high flying Craig Sealy near the rim for an alley-oop that would draw the deficit to just one with 2:39 left in the half.
The final ticks of the clock in the half were physical, with both teams fighting hard on the glass and picking up a multitude of fouls. In the end, Ohio entered the half up just 1 point, 35-34.
After a quick score by the Falcons to open the second half, Cooper would find Keely under the rim to put Ohio up 37-36, and Hall, who finished the game with 12 points, surpassed his first half scoring total on one play when he drained a 3 from the left corner with 19:21 left in the second half.
“Effort was a big key at half time, so I just came out and tried to give more effort, look for guys and hit open shots,” Hall said of his second half performance.
But Hall wasn’t the only Ohio big man to put up an impressive performance. Keely, who has been on a tear since taking a starting role 11 games ago, had another impressive game racking up 15 points and 10 boards. The senior scored two consecutive buckets from close range with just over 18 minutes left in the half. A layup by Hall then put the ‘Cats up by 11 at the 15 minute mark. It was the ‘Cats biggest lead of the game to that point and the beginning of the end for the Falcons.
Ohio, which mixed in its bench early in the second half, remained fresher than the Falcons, who were visibly getting tired. With 15 minutes in the game, Ohio’s bench had played a combined 40 minutes between five guys compared to just 29 from the Falcons bench. The contributions from the Ohio bench proved to be huge as they would not only help keep Ohio’s starters fresh for late in the game but also provide crucial help on defense.
Offutt, who finished with 12 points in 22 minutes, continued to shine, drilling a trey from the right corner with just less than seven minutes left in the game, putting Ohio back up by 10. But the physical play of the game caught up to Offut on the charge call that sidelined him for the final minutes.
“I’m not sure if he needs stiches,” Christian said after the game when asked about Offutt’s eye. “His career as a boxer is probably going to be short lived. I mean he was bleeding all over the place,” he joked.
Crawford and Cooper would each be charged with a technical at the 2:31 mark after Cooper stole the ball from Crawford and was fouled in the process. A triumphant Cooper beat his chest after the play and the two began jawing at one another.
“It’s just late in conference, everybody wants to win,” Cooper said on the late game antics.
The issue escalated as the two made their way down the court, until both benches were charged with technicals.
“You never want to see anything like that happen,” Christian said. “You’ve got two teams playing hard…but unfortunately sometimes those things happen. They’re usually small incidents and just probably people overreacting on both sides…it happens unfortunately.”
Despite stellar performances by Crawford and senior forward A’uston Calhoun—the two finished with 17 points and 19 points, respectively—Ohio dominated the final minutes of the game, holding on for a 72-63 win.
Ohio will take on Central Michigan Wednesday at 7 on the road as it looks to keep close with Akron in the MAC standings. The Zips currently lead the MAC at a perfect 10-0 in conference.