Published Sat, Jan 28, 2012 5:10 pm Dateline
Updated Sun, Jan 29, 2012 2:28 pm
The Ohio Bobcats nearly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, an unusual feat, as they took down the Ball State Cardinals Saturday morning 59-55. Ohio notched its seventeenth win overall, fifth in-conference.
As the minutes wound down in Saturday’s contest, Ball State drew closer and closer to pulling out a win, but Ohio showed toughness down the stretch to hold on. Late attempts by Randy Davis and Jesse Berry in the final seconds were of no avail. The ‘Cats got a basket from Walter Offutt and one free throw apiece from he and D.J. Cooper to put the game on ice. Offutt pulled down the game’s final rebound to run out the clock.
Ohio brought a strong brand of defense to the Convo Saturday, forcing 22 Cards turnovers. The Bobcats had to rely on that strong defense as their usual high-scorers had trouble putting down baskets. Offutt, Cooper and fellow guard Nick Kellogg shot a combined 6-23 from the field, good for just 26 percent. Meanwhile, Cooper and Offutt went 8-17 from the charity stripe, just 47 percent.
“[Ohio has] a lot of guys that can hurt you and a lot of different weapons,” said Ball State Head Coach Billy Taylor. “We just gave them a different look and tried to slow them down.”
Even with the difficulties on offense, the ‘Cats had clutch plays down the stretch including a put-back by Offutt at the end of the shot clock after Cooper missed everything on a desperation circus shot. Offutt’s recovery efforts helped him lead the team in scoring with 13 points despite poor shooting.
“I think I do a good job of moving on to the next play,” said Offutt, “and that’s what I did tonight. I’m fortunate enough, I stepped up and made one down the stretch and made some other plays to help my team win the ball game.”
The Bobcats relied heavily on those few plays to keep them in the lead. The second half was when Ohio had the most trouble putting shots in, an apparent hangover from the final minutes of the first half. In the last three minutes of the first half Ohio scored just three points while Ball State poured in seven. The Cardinals outscored Ohio in the second half by three points.
The ‘Cats’ ability to maintain a lead late in the game can be attributed to an early 16-0 run spanning more than four minutes to put them ahead by double-digits. Ohio’s largest lead came with 8:37 to play in the first half when Ohio led by 14.
This game brought back bad memories for Ohio of its early-season struggles with finishing off opponents. After seeing the ‘Cats bust out to such a large lead, it appeared they were piecing together a blowout victory, a MAC rarity. However, Ball State managed to keep coming back after blowing its five-point lead to start the game. Jarrod Jones and Chris Bond caused Ohio fits all game long. Each had a double-double, Jones with 11 points and 15 rebounds, Bond with 12 points and 14 rebounds. With so many close contests as of late, Ohio Head Coach John Groce says his team has plenty to work on as teams hit the final stretch of the season. Groce is stressing toughness as his team prepares for its remaining games.
“I want to make sure that [my players] understand that attitude, effort, toughness and togetherness are non-negotiable,” Groce said.
Ohio’s next test of toughness comes in the form of a battle with the Bobcat football team’s foe Northern Illinois. Ohio heads to DeKalb to face off with the Huskies, looking to get another win against the MAC West under its belt.