Updated Sun, Mar 3, 2013 4:01 pm
The Ohio Bobcats (21-8, 12-2 MAC) put an end to their two-game losing skid and clinched the No. 2 seed in the Mid-American Conference Tournament Saturday, defeating the Bowling Green Falcons (12-17, 6-8 MAC) in the Stroh Center, 78-65. Behind the strong play of Reggie Keely and a revamped Nick Kellogg, the Bobcats picked up their first road victory against Bowling Green since 2007.
Keely was the Bobcats’ leading scorer, going 10-15 from the field and pouring in 21 points. Keely was the momentum swing for the Bobcats in the second half after Jim Christian’s club had given up the lead with 16:08 left in the game.
A’uston Calhoun, who powered his way for 24 points, hit a layup to tie the game at 42, but following a timeout, it was the Ohio big man’s turn to step up. Keely led the Bobcats on a 7-0 run, with the ball leaving Keely’s fingertips on all seven points.
Bowling Green was unable to lower the Ohio lead below five the remainder of the game, with Calhoun being shut down for the final 13:11 of regulation.
“I feel like Ohio made their series of runs. We could never really counter that up to part. … After we made our spurt and built a lead, I think they came down and scored on eight straight possessions. And that really hurt us,” said Calhoun, who noticed Ohio double-teamed and forced him to pass more in the second half.
The Bobcats were able to find their groove early and build a 13-point lead in the first half, but their first points didn’t come until Ivo Baltic hit a layup at the 16:18 mark. Baltic, who started in place for a banged up T.J. Hall, went 0-for-7 the rest of the way out and finished with only two points.
“T.J. probably could’ve played, to be honest with you, but he really had a lot of swelling after the Akron game. And we felt that it was in his best interest to not play today at all,” Christian said. “Ivo got a chance to start. It was a great opportunity to get him to again try to snap out of his funk, play more aggressively, which I thought he did.”
The Bobcats saw their lead slow slip away heading into halftime, though, as Calhoun erupted for eight points in the final 4:55, and Bowling Green went on a 12-5 run. Suddenly, the Ohio lead was down to six entering the half, giving some Bobcat fans a bit of Déjà vu to the Akron game.
Bowling Green surprised Ohio in the early part of the second half by switching to a 2-3 zone and forcing the Bobcats to work the ball around to find a good shot. It was Calhoun again, who lit the Bobcats up from all around the court, offensively. He knocked down a pair of buckets in the first 2:47 of the second half. Add that to a three-point shot by Luke Kraus, and Bowling Green had taken the one-point lead.
An angry Christian called timeout, seeing his team start the second half slow once again, a problem this team has had the entire year.
Following the timeout, it was D.J. Cooper’s turn to put his mark on the game. The Ohio point guard, who was silent in the first half with 0 points, knocked down a deep three-pointer to regain the lead.
When the Bobcats needed the deep ball the most, they were hitting it. After shooting 27.3% from three in the first, they improved to 45.5% in the second, including an improved shooting performance from a slumping Kellogg.
In the junior’s past nine games, he had gone 8-of-40 from beyond the arc, which is unheard of numbers by the Ohio sharpshooter. That slump took a backseat Saturday, as Kellogg nailed four three pointers against the Falcons.
It was the first game since Jan. 20 that Kellogg was able to hit four-plus threes in one game. The last time he did it was on the road against Miami. Christian was happy “to see number 15 wake from his nap.”
“It felt good. Just because I know my teammates are always encouraging me, and my coaches. You know, it felt really good. They count on me to do that. Just do what I can do to help the team win,” said Kellogg, who finished with 16 points. “Every time I shoot, they think it’s going in and that’s a big help to me mentally and it’s great to know that.”
The ultimate backbreaker for Bowling Green was the Bobcats’ ability to break their zone with a solid inside-outside game, something that has grown with the season. Cooper finished with six assists, as the Bobcats improved to 18-4 when the point guard dishes five or more assists. As a team, the Bobcats had 18 assists and forced Bowling Green to commit 21 turnovers, 14 in the first half.
“From that point (17-minute mark) on, I think our team played basketball and got better. That’s all I care about. I just want our team to get better,” Christian said. “We definitely played like a team that understood how to win and made winning a priority. From that point forward, that was the basketball team we need to be moving on from this game and finish out the season.”
Walter Offutt fulfilled his role as the “do it all” man, with 12 points, three rebounds, five assists and two steals in his team-leading 36 minutes.
After Calhoun, Bowling Green’s next top scorer was Craig Sealey with nine points, while guard Jordon Crawford, one of the top scorers in the Mid-American Conference, finished with seven points, seven assists and six turnovers.
The Bobcats improved to 6-1 on the road in the MAC for the first time in program history. Their improvement from a 0-5 record in non-conference road games to 6-1 is due to their shooting. Against road games in the MAC, they’re shooting 47.5% from the field, while they shoot just 42% in non-conference road games.
Ohio will play their final road game of the season against the Buffalo Bulls. The Bobcats won the last matchup in January, 86-68. Cooper, who scored 10 points against the Falcons, is now six points away from becoming the first player in NCAA history with 2,000 points, 900 assists, 600 rebounds and 300 steals.