Updated Sat, Jan 5, 2013 7:07 pm
The Ohio men’s basketball team returned home Saturday afternoon after a rough stretch in December where the team lost five of its seven games in the month. Looking for a fresh start to the year, Ohio (9-5) welcomed the Marshall Thundering Herd (7-8) into The Convocation Center and cruised to a 94-57 victory in the 100th all-time matchup on the hardwood between the two teams.
The ‘Cats were looking to start 2013 off right, and after jumping out to a 32 point lead in the first half it’s safe to say they achieved their goal. Everything seemed to go right for Ohio in a game that saw D.J. Cooper set the Ohio single game assists record with 17.
“We’ve talked a lot about eliminating excuses and doing your job and I think today…we were very consistent in doing our job and making sure we understood exactly what we were doing on both ends of the floor,” said Ohio head coach Jim Christian after the game.
Cooper and the team (which tied a school record for 29 total assists in a game) for the first time in a while, found success in their transition game and defense. After struggling with turnovers in their last few games Ohio showed off their signature smothering half-court defense that allowed them to start their season off so hot, before dropping five of their last seven. Ohio applied never-ending pressure on Marshall all afternoon, to the tune of 51 points off of 26 Thundering Herd turnovers.
“When you turn it over like that for points, you have no shot and we had no shot. (It’s) obviously the worse loss I’ve had since I’ve been at Marshall (and) maybe in my coaching career,” said a visibly frustrated Marshal head coach Tom Herrion after the game.
Ohio’s domination in the turnover margins started early. At the 17:47 mark in the first half, Ohio senior forward Ivo Baltic stripped the ball from Marshall senior forward Dennis Tinnon and dished it to Cooper. In the resulting play, Cooper would dish an alley-oop pass to a wide-open Baltic who slammed it down giving Ohio a 7-1 lead. That play opened a wound that Marshall just couldn’t close up.
The turnovers led to quick offensive transitions for Ohio that often left open lanes for the Bobcat big men to score in the paint. Ohio dominated inside early, managing to score 26 points in the paint in the first half. The whole team seemed to be clicking early on.
Marshall, who gave up 19 turnovers in the first half alone, had no solution to slow down an Ohio offense that was on fire in the game’s first 20 minutes. The ‘Cats made 16-18 of their shots in the first 12 minutes and finished the half shooting 74 percent from the field, a season high for a half. Baltic and Ohio senior forward Reggie Keely were a perfect 8-for-8 combined from the field in the first half as the team leapt out to a commanding lead. During one four-minute span early in the half, Ohio managed a 19-2 run and would finish the half with a commanding 56-24 lead.
“When we run proper lanes and we run hard we’re a pretty good offensive team. That’s been our thing,” said Christian on the ‘Cats offensive success.
Everything seemed to be going right for Ohio as the second half started and despite Marshall coming out with a 5-0 run in the first 53 seconds, Ohio would never let Marshall make it a game. Cooper, Kellogg and Offutt dominated the Marshall backcourt that was dealing with an injured DeAndre Kane (Kane averaged 15 ppg coming into Saturday). The three would combine for 47 points, with Kellogg scoring a game-high 22.
Ohio continued to shoot well, though not as lights-out as in the first half, and never quite let off the pressure. Cooper gave Marshall’s defense fits all night, finding guys on plays that seemed nearly impossible. Like this no-look behind-the-back dish to Walter Offutt with 15:10 left on the half that gave the ‘Cats a 69-38 lead and Cooper his 15th assist on the night.
“Walt plays hard all night, I tried to put it on the money for him as he went to the backdoor and he just finished,” said Cooper on the play.
“Just to make it clear that (play) wasn’t drawn up,” interjected Christian.
Nearly ten minutes later with 6:19 left in the game, Cooper would tie the school record for assists in a game at 16 on a pick and roll to Reggie Keely. On the next possession Cooper found Kellogg in transition for a wide open three that put Ohio up 82-49 and gave Cooper sole possession of the Ohio single-game record, formerly held by Dennis Whitaker (16).
“Guys (were) just running the lane and I’m just pushing it,” said Cooper on his performance. “I don’t keep track of it, but I’m human I know when I’m having a pretty high assist game. I didn’t know the exact number until halftime though,” he said of his record-setting night.
Cooper, who also moved to over 800 assists in his career, would leave the game with 4:45 left to a standing ovation. Cooper would finish the game with 12 points, 17 assists and six rebounds, his fourth double-double on the season.
“He (Cooper) just played the game the right way today. He didn’t do anything spectacular, he just found the right guy and we made some shots. He just played sound the whole game and when you play sound the whole game that’s when you end up with 17 assists,” said Christian on his star point guards performance.
Despite Cooper's record-breaking performance, the win was a team effort that saw all five Ohio starters finish the game in double digits scoring wise. Kellogg led the team with 22, Keely contributed 18, Offutt added 13 and Baltic and Cooper each had 12. Ohio played well on both ends of the court managing to hold Marshall center Nigel Spikes and forward Dennis Tinnon to fifteen combined boards. The two came in averaging nearly 20 a game.
After struggling all December long, Ohio looked like the team that started the season with an 81-52 win over Portland. The transition offense was working, defensively they were smothering and they shot lights out.
“Like coach said, coming off of a loss, we haven’t played in a week, playing on our home court I just think it built up and we were ready to go today. We were dialed in. We were hungry and we needed to get this one. I think from the start we came out and got it done,” said Kellogg.
With conference play starting Wednesday night at home against Buffalo (5-9) the statement victory couldn’t have come sooner for the ‘Cats.