Updated Wed, Mar 6, 2013 2:17 am
The Ohio Bobcats earned a hard-fought victory on the road against the Buffalo Bulls, 72-69 in a game that bounced back-and-forth for all 40 minutes. The lead changed six times and both teams had leads of at least nine points at some point throughout the game.
D.J. Cooper continued his history-making ways Tuesday becoming the only player in NCAA Division I history to reach 2,000 points, 900 assists, 600 rebounds and 300 steals over his career. Cooper finished the game with 24 points and five assists against Buffalo. The senior point guard has averaged 20 points per game in his past three games.
“The minute [Cooper] walks out the door,” said head coach Jim Christian, “you’re not going to see another one like him for a long, long time.”
The Bulls’ offense got off to a terrific start as Buffalo (12-18, 7-8) opened a 12-2 lead to start the game. The Bulls started by hitting seven of nine shots to put the Bobcats (22-8, 13-2) behind 18-9. McCrea sank a free throw to increase the lead to 10 with 13:06 to play in the half.
But the Bobcats quickly got their offense in gear, going on a 15-4 run to take their first lead of the game 24-23. Ohio made six of nine shots in that stretch. The night turned into a great shooting effort for the ‘Cats as they shot 48.3 percent from the field.
Back and forth the teams went over the remainder of the half. After being tied at 23, neither team gained more than a three-point advantage for the next five minutes. But in the final 2:48, Ohio went on a 10-6 run to take a five-point advantage into the halftime break. The run was powered entirely by Cooper and Baltic in particular. The duo combined for 26 first half points.
“[Baltic’s] one of those guys,” said Christian, “that when he starts off well he usually plays well. When he doesn’t start off well, he struggles. But I thought he played harder tonight.”
Baltic finished with 12 points but only two rebounds. Christian noted that his team must rebound better down the stretch. The Bulls outrebounded the Bobcats 43-22.
Buffalo came storming out in the second half as well, tying the game in the first two minutes. Cooper found Kellogg, however, on a skip pass for three to put the Bobcats back in the lead. Thus, sparked a 9-0 run by the ‘Cats to keep them out in front.
This marked the first of two nine-point leads the Bulls were able to cut down. After Ohio pulled ahead by nine points with nine minutes remaining, Buffalo ignited a 12-0 run to retake the lead that continued to build throughout the dying minutes of the half.
The Bobcats drew close once more, working the score to 69-67 Buffalo with two minutes remaining in the game. Cooper hit a step-back three-pointer to put Ohio back in the lead, one of five makes from behind the arc in the game for the senior.
With 30 seconds to play, Ohio led by one and Buffalo had about a two-second difference between the shot clock and the game clock. Keely rejected a Jarryn Skeete layup attempt out-of-bounds leaving three seconds on the shot clock. Tony Watson launched a three-point attempt on the inbound pass that missed everything to give the Bobcats the ball with three seconds remaining.
Buffalo fouled the ‘Cats on the ensuing inbound pass, sending Kellogg to the line with one second left on the clock. Kellogg sank both ends of the one-and-one to give Ohio a three-point lead it carried through to the final buzzer.
“Winning on the road gets you more confident,” said Christian, “and playing well toward the end. That’s two in a row for us. So with our next one at home, we just want to be playing well as we head down to Cleveland [for the conference tournament].”
The Akron Zips defeated the Miami RedHawks Tuesday night, clinching the Mid-American Conference regular season title for the Zips. Ohio, therefore, is locked in as the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament with a spot in the semifinals. The Bobcats still have one game remaining before the tournament. Those same RedHawks come to Athens for the season finale in the Convocation Center Saturday. Tipoff is set for 4:00 p.m.