Updated Thu, Feb 21, 2013 12:46 am
Nearly a month after the game was canceled due to an armed fugitive on the Ohio University campus, the Eastern Michigan Eagles and Ohio Bobcats finally squared off. Ohio downed the Eagles at home, 73-50, sweeping the MAC West for the first time in program history and improving to 20-6 (11-1 MAC).
Despite the Eagles (12-14, 5-7 MAC) troubling zone defense, Ohio took a commanding lead early in the first half. After a three from Eagles forward Glenn Bryant at the 18-minute mark, T.J. Hall found Reggie Keely down low to put the ‘Cats up, 4-3. It sparked an impressive 15-0 run by the ‘Cats and set the tone for the game.
“When you play Eastern Michigan, it's such a pace game, a controlled-type game. I thought tonight we came out; the first seven possessions we scored on. (We) got the lead early which is what you have to do with them,” said Ohio head coach Jim Christian after the game. “I take our hat off to our defense. I thought we came out with great intensity, especially on the ball.”
Ohio’s early defense was smothering. The ‘Cats forced two shot clock violations in the first five minutes, causing the Eagles to settle for bad shots in the hopes that something would fall. Nothing did. Ohio’s big men capitalized, pulling down 13 defensive boards in the first half. The team finished with 42 total rebounds, a season high.
D.J. Cooper hit Keely on a bounce pass with just under 16 left on the clock to move into sole possession of 15th place on the NCAA career assists. Despite having three men on him, Keely bullied his way through and laid it in to put Ohio up, 6-3. Keely finished with a game-high 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting.
“Early on I thought Reggie Keely established himself inside. They attacked inside our zone. They were able to get layups to start the game. We couldn't score to start the game. We struggled in that area … I think they capitalized (on that),” said Eagles head coach Rob Murphy on Ohio’s ability to attack their zone defense early on.
Minutes later in the middle of a lengthy one-sided run for the ‘Cats, Nick Kellogg drained a step back three in the face of multiple Eagles defenders with a mere two seconds left on the shot clock. The Bobcats’ run finally ended at 15-0 after Jalen Ross sunk a running jumper with 9:25 left on the clock. Up to that point, the Eagles connected on just 16.7 percent of their shots from the field.
But the Eagles without Bryant, who spent much of the first half on the bench, couldn’t keep up with an Ohio team that nailed 58-percent of its shots in the first half. Cooper hit a highflying Ivo Baltic at the four-minute mark on an acrobatic layup. Seconds later, Cooper found Keely down low for his sixth assist of the half, putting the ‘Cats up 31-14, their largest lead to that point. Cooper drained a three a little over a minute later to send Ohio into halftime up 20 points, 36-16.
“We just tried to follow the game plan that coach scripted up. That was (to) attack and get what the defense gives us,” Cooper said.
The Eagles came out executing their game plan to a tee early in the first half. They slowed the game down and caused fits for Ohio on defense. The ‘Cats were charged with three defensive fouls in the first 1:30 of the half, giving the Eagles plenty of opportunities to spark an offensive run. It wouldn’t happen. Cooper squashed any hope of the Eagles clawing their way back into the game with a three from downtown moments later. He finished the night with 16 points on 4 of 8 from 3-point range.
The Eagles quickly slipped back to their desperate ways, throwing up bad shots and giving the ‘Cats easy defensive rebounds. Cooper drained yet another three from the top of the key with 12:20 on the clock, giving Ohio a 25-point lead, 51-26. Jon Smith blocked two Eagles shots in a one-minute time span at the under 12-minute mark, sparking a run of sloppy play from both squads that continued up to the final ticks of the clock.
Both sides were throwing up flamboyant shots. Ohio’s sloppy offense and relaxed defense allowed the Eagles to more than double their first half offensive output.
The showmanship wasn’t all bad, though. Cooper was dropping dimes all night, even assisting a lucky fan in an on-court contest during a media time out.
“I think we were just enjoying it. You know for us seniors it’s our last couple games. I think it’s starting to hit us a little bit so we’re just embracing it all,” Cooper said on the flashiness of the game.
Cooper finished the game with 10 total assists, moving him into a tie with Northeastern alumni Andre LeFleur for 13th all-time on the NCAA’s career assists leaderboard. The star senior is also now 24th on the NCAA all-time steals leaderboard with 316.
With less than four minutes left in the game, Keely was called for a flagrant foul. The Eagles bench didn’t take too kindly to it, resulting in a scuffle between the two squads. Eagles forward Matt Balkema and Ohio guard Walter Offutt were nose-to-nose, jawing back and forth. Balkema shoved Offutt picking up a technical. Refs stepped in before things could escalate further but the game was delayed for several minutes as both coaches calmed down and the officials sorted the mess out.
“Tensions (are) high this time of year. Guys are playing for a lot and guys are dreaming about winning championships and making runs. So it’s normal for guys to get a little testy around this time,” Keely said.
The teams returned to the court with cooler heads, and Ohio held on to win, 73-50.
Ohio improved to 11-1 in the Mid-American Conference, their best start in conference play since 1984-85. They take a break from conference play this weekend, as they’ll take on Belmont (21-6, 12-2) in the ESPN BracketBusters challenge Saturday at 10 p.m.
But winning the conference regular season title is still prominent on the team’s mind. Ohio currently trails Akron (21-4, 12-0) in the MAC standings after losing to them 86-72 on the road earlier this month.
“I’ve been looking forward to it. I know the guys and coaches have been looking forward to it as well,” Cooper said. “We gave that game away. We were up 13 … It won’t happen Wednesday, though.”