Men’s basketball: Ohio downs Buffalo in home MAC opener

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It wasn’t pretty, but the Ohio Bobcats got what they needed Wednesday night: their first conference victory. Ohio defeated the Buffalo Bulls 60-52 in what was your classic hard-fought conference game. In a foul- and turnover-ridden contest, the Bobcats ended their two-game losing streak.

Ohio (13-3, 1-1 MAC) struggled from the field once again. The ‘Cats shot 32 percent from the field and 5-22 from 3-point range, but Ohio was able to make up for sub-par shooting with toughness.

Buffalo head coach Reggie Witherspoon summed the game up well.

“I thought Ohio outworked us, and outhustled us at every opportunity,” Witherspoon said.

Coming into the game, Ohio head coach John Groce emphasized defense and rebounding as things Ohio could control. The ‘Cats were stellar in both areas.

“You can control your effort,” Groce said. “The main thing I want them to understand is the defense and rebounding has to be a constant regardless of whether we’re hitting shots.”

In its previous two losses, Ohio allowed Robert Morris and Bowling Green to shoot over 50 percent from the field. Ohio was also out-rebounded during its two-game skid.

The ‘Cats were able to reverse those trends against Buffalo. On the defensive end, Ohio held the Bulls to 38 percent shooting from the field. Ohio also out-rebounded the Bulls 42-39 – particularly impressive, considering Buffalo was the fourth-ranked rebounding team in the nation coming into the contest.

“The commitment to defend and rebound consistently is what we are trying to be about," Groce said. “Tonight was a really good step in the direction there.”

Ohio came out of the gate hot, taking a 12-0 lead off of three Nick Kellogg 3-pointers. Buffalo (8-5, 1-1 MAC) was able to chip away at the lead throughout the contest, getting within three in the second half. Ohio held firm and never once gave the Bulls a lead.

D.J. Cooper led Ohio with 15 points. Nick Kellogg finished with 14 points, and provided a 3-point threat, which helped open up the inside for Ivo Baltic. Baltic chipped in 12 points and was active in the post, making it to the free-throw line 11 times.

So, Ohio got a sloppy, but much needed victory. With MAC play just getting underway, the ‘Cats are one step closer to the top of the conference. Akron, Ball State and Central Michigan are all unblemished in the MAC after Wednesday night's action.

“In MAC play, every game is a dogfight,” forward Jon Smith said. “You have to protect your home court, and then you have to go and try and get some wins on the road.”

Ohio will look to continue its climb up the MAC standings Saturday at Akron.