Updated Sun, Nov 13, 2011 11:56 pm
The Ohio Bobcats ushered in the basketball season in grand fashion Sunday, defeating the Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks 74-65. But the score doesn’t quite tell the entire story of the game.
To say this was a close game would be a mistake. UT-M never led and found themselves down by 29 early in the second half. The Bobcats continued the trend from last season of not putting teams away that showed in this game and also in Monday’s exhibition.
The ‘Cats started off hot, busting out to a quick 23-7 lead. Redshirt junior Walter Offutt showed his scoring ability from the start, knocking down a three and driving to the rack at the start of the game. It was clear Offutt was picking up right where he left off Monday, a game in which he scored 23 points.
Offutt did a little bit of everything in this game as he led the ‘Cats in scoring with 17 and also added four rebounds, three assists and three steals. Not bad for his first official game in an Ohio Bobcats uniform.
“It felt good to be out there,” said Offutt. “It’s really fun to be a part of this team.”
The Bobcats looked like they were having a heaping helping of fun in the Convo Sunday afternoon as the “Skyhawks” were looking more like “Landslugs.” Ohio was sticking to Coach Groce’s plan to run, run, and run some more.
“We ran the ball well in transition,” said Groce, “I thought we were unselfish. I thought we were really pushing the pace.”
Ohio was firing on all cylinders and putting down buckets left and right. If the defense were a pack of hungry wolves, the basketball was a juicy pile of steaks. D.J. Cooper tossed in a circus scoop shot as time expired in the first half, symbolic of how the game had gone to that point. OU carried a 19-point lead into the break.
The scoring spree continued for the ‘Cats at the start of the second half with Offutt getting to the rack for a layup and one. Ohio started with a 20-10 run to widen the gap to the aforementioned 29 points.
However, that was the point that the offense seemed to hit a wall. UT-M followed with a run of its own by finishing on a 34-14 run, which tarnished Ohio’s big game. Coach Groce was proud of the win, but, after seeing that final stretch, was left craving more from his players. He wants the ‘Cats to earn a reputation as finishers.
“I’m concerned about our second half defense,” said Groce. “If we’re capable of [playing great defense] in the first half, we’re certainly capable of doing it in the second half.”
Ohio can consider itself lucky it was able to get out to a large lead. The ‘Cats getting outscored by 20 to end the game is not what they want to carry over into upcoming games against Lamar, Arkansas State, and nationally-ranked Louisville.
“We just got complacent [in the second half],” said Cooper. “I feel like we played to the score.”
It’s something for Ohio to look out for because the scoring may not always be there. If the ‘Cats can rely on defense much like they played in the first half Sunday, they will be in good shape. The ‘Cats forced the Skyhawks into 23 turnovers while only committing 10 of their own.
One area the Bobcats can improve on is on the glass. The ‘Cats started off strong, yanking down boards like they were picking apples on a fresh spring day, easy as pie. They led the rebounding battle by three at half. However, as the game went on, the Skyhawks started stealing rebounds from Ohio and finished the game with eight more boards than the ‘Cats.
Ohio’s frontcourt can definitely improve, in particular Ivo Baltic. The junior forward finished with just six points. Coach Groce said the ‘Cats need Baltic to play better in order to solidify their frontcourt.
“He’s got to learn to play hard all the time,” said Groce. “He’s more than capable of doing that.”
Sunday’s game goes back to Groce’s original message to his players about filling their roles. When players don’t fill their roles, things go wrong. For example, Jon Smith played well, but only for 15 minutes due to foul trouble; T.J. Hall had three fouls in just three minutes of play; and the entire team barely broke 50 percent at the foul line.
At the end of the day for the ‘Cats, a win is a win. And although it wasn’t pretty, Ohio will take this somewhat sloppy victory as a chance to learn.
“Sometimes it’s easier to learn lessons when you get beat,” said Groce, “so I’m going to see how mature this group is and see if we can learn a valuable lesson about finishing properly through a win.”
It isn’t certain how a team can redeem themselves of a win, but Ohio will be looking to do just that against Lamar on Tuesday. As Coach Groce said, “it’s only November 13” and there is still a lot of season left to play.