Updated Mon, Mar 12, 2012 12:35 am
1st 2nd Total
Ohio 46 31 77
Buffalo 35 39 74
Overview: The Bobcats knocked off the Buffalo Bulls twice in the regular season, but in order to reach the MAC finals Saturday evening, a third straight time was necessary. Behind a first half scoring barrage in which Ohio canned 10 three-pointers--five of them from Dj Cooper--and netted 46 points, the Bobcats held on in a wild second half withstanding 32 points from Mitchell Watt, the MAC's Player of the Year, and held on for a 77-74 victory over the Bulls giving them a berth in the championship game for the second time in three seasons.
Turning Point: With Ohio clinging to a 71-70 lead with 5:21 remaining and Buffalo storming from as many as 15 down, the green and white rose to the challenge, responding with a 6-0 run behind two Reggie Keely free throws and back-to-back buckets from forward Ivo Baltic. All of the sudden, Ohio led 77-70 lead with 2:51 left. The jumpers from Baltic gave Ohio its final point total for the evening and wound up being too much for Buffalo to overcome. The Bobcats made things interesting down the stretch--missing four straight free-throws--but Jarod Oldham's half-court prayer at the buzzer went unanswered off the back rim leading to a bench clearing celebration from Ohio players.
"I thought our guys really hung in there," coach John Groce said afterwards. "I was really proud of their tenacity. We made some plays there late in the game and it came from a variety of guys."
Key Players: Yes, Dj Cooper was named the 'Player of the Game' over the loud speakers of Quicken Loans Arena afterwards with 18 points and nine assists, but production like that is almost expected from the Bobcats' best player. The key to this game was the production from Ohio's "bench mob," namely T.J. Hall and Reggie Keely. The two combined for 27 points on 13-of-18 shooting and together, they collected 13 rebounds, providing all the difference in Ohio's bench out-scoring Buffalo's, 27-13.
Eight of Hall's 13 points came in the 1st half helping Ohio build an 11-point lead. More importantly, the eight points he scored came in the final 2:44 of the half, turning a six point lead, into the 11-point cushion the Bobcats enjoyed at the break.
Meanwhile, Keely's production came largely in the second half as the big guy scored 12 of his 14 points in the final 20 minutes. Keely's play helped Ohio stave off Buffalo's furious rally down the stretch. Keely scored four straight points for the 'Cats in the final five minutes, including the big free throws, which were part of Ohio's back-breaking 6-0 run that turned the game in Ohio's favor. So far in the MAC tournament, Keely's been huge for Ohio, totaling 27 points and 13 rebounds in victories over Toledo and Buffalo.
"Those guys made a huge difference in the game," Groce said afterwards. "The guys that came off the bench were ready to play. We would not be where we're at today without the depth that we've had."
It's worth mentioning, Mitchell Watt was an absolute beast scoring 32 points on 11-of-17 shooting. No matter how many double-teams, traps, and different bodies Ohio threw at him Friday, the MAC's 'Player of the Year' was unphased, pouring in basket after basket and nearly single-handedly brought Buffalo all the way back from its 15 point second half deficit and into Saturday's MAC final.
HIs performance drew rave reviews from Ohio's coach Groce.
"The improvement he's made from freshman to senior year is incredible. I have a lot of respect for him and their team. He was tremendous."
Key Stat: Coming into the game, coach Groce thought the rebounding edge would play a big factor in the final outcome. It's been well documented that Ohio bullied Buffalo on the glass in their previous two meetings this season combining for a +12 rebounding edge. But tonight, Buffalo flipped the script, out-rebounding Ohio 44-32. So how did Ohio overcome what their coach thought would be a huge factor in the game? By taking care of the rock. The 'Cats turned the ball over just seven times Friday compared to 13 by Buffalo. By valuing nearly every possession, Ohio was able to get just about everything it wanted on the offensive end. It showed in the shooting stats as the team shot over 45% from the field and 48% from 3-point land.
Up Next: Ohio advances to play top-seeded Akron Saturday at 8 o'clock, setting up a rematch of the 2010 championship game when the 9th seeded Bobcats upset the 3rd seeded Zips, 81-75. Akron defeated rival Kent State in the early game Saturday, 78-74. Ohio and Akron split the season series this year with each team protecting its home court. The most recent matchup came on February 26th when Ohio dominated the Zips, 85-61. Expect a much closer game Saturday as each team has a trip to the 'Big Dance' well within their sights.
"Its always a battle when we play them [Akron]," said Groce. "Our guys will be looking forward to the challenge. I'm sure you won't have to motivate either team. Its for a championship and we love one another." Clearly, Groce mentioned the last part with a giant smirk on his face, alluding to the recent rivalry thats developed between the two teams.
Overall, Ohio has won the only two meetings between the schools in MAC tourney play (2003 and 2010).