Updated Sat, Dec 24, 2011 1:30 am
A goal for any team on a run like Ohio is to avoid losses that will show up on the "Bad Losses" side of a NCAA bubble discussion.
On Friday night in Athens, Stevie Taylor made sure the Bobcats kept that side of a future television graphic clear.
Ohio's freshman scored a career-high 19 points in the Bobcats' 82-66 win over visiting North Carolina A&T. Ohio improved to 11-1 with the win, the best start for the program since 1940-41.
Taylor, the all-time leading scorer in Gahanna-Lincoln High School history, connected on five of his nine three-point attempts to keep the hot-shooting Aggies (4-10) at bay.
"My teammates just set me up in good positions to score the ball and it was just a matter of hitting my shots," Taylor said. "Coach tells us every day to play our role. That's my role. That's what I have to do for the team to win."
"The reason we had the lead at the half is because we forced them into 13 turnovers with some active hands," Ohio head coach John Groce said. "I thought Stevie coming off the bench provided a huge spark."
North Carolina A&T made things interesting by shooting 69.6 percent (16-23) from the field in the first half and making nine three pointers in the game, but the Aggies' last lead of the game was by two at the 15:09 mark of the first half.
Five Bobcats scored 11 or more points - Walter Offutt and Nick Kellogg (14 each), Ivo Baltic (12) and Reggie Keely (11) - but A&T was pesky for most of the night until Ohio was able to pull away late in the second half.
Ohio held the Aggies to 8-20 shooting in the second 20 minutes.
"That wasn't us in the first half playing defense," Taylor admitted. "We pride ourselves on the defensive side, offense will come."
"We didn't have it in the first half," Groce added. "They shot 70 percent in the first half…that's something we take a lot of pride in, and that's just not good enough. We didn't have it. The second half, we played harder and we played better"
Ohio will get a four day break from basketball and resume practice Dec. 27 before a game three days later against Kennesaw State (3-9).
A win over the Owls would tie the mark for the best start in school history. Ohio would share a 12-1 record with the 1920-21 team, which lost its 14th game of the season. According to Groce, his team wants that mark.
"It wasn't like they wanted to go home and not play, they wanted to play. They knew that if they got to 11-1, it would give a chance to tie the mark."
Against the Aggies, Ohio point guard D.J. Cooper continued his solid stretch of play, scoring eight points, notching seven assists and recording two steals.
But it was Cooper's backup who stole the show in the pre-Christmas game for Ohio. Taylor had a stretch in the first half when he scored 11 straight points. The freshman made the most of his time; he scored his 19 points in just 16 minutes of play.
"That's why I came to this school, because of coach Groce and the coaching staff," Taylor said. "If we stick to the game plan, who knows what could happen."