Men’s basketball: Ohio edges Lamar in OT

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Ohio squeezed by Lamar for its second win of the season. The ‘Cats needed five extra minutes to take care of the Cardinals, winning 85-78 in overtime.

After the win against Tennessee-Martin, Ohio head coach John Groce stressed the importance of finishing ball games and, boy, did his team finish. Within 30 seconds of the start of the overtime period, D.J. Cooper drained a three-pointer to put the Bobcats ahead. They never looked back. After Lamar drained a mid-range jumper, Reggie Keely and Walter Offutt each dumped in layups to make it a two-possession game.

The Bobcats widened the gap to seven after Cooper drained his second three of the overtime period. One elaborate series of missed jumpers by Lamar and free throw conversions by Ohio later, the ‘Cats were headed to the locker room with a 2-0 record.

Groce made it goal in the one-day break for his team to learn a valuable lesson in finishing off an opponent. After Ohio put the Cardinals to bed in overtime, it may be safe to say: mission accomplished, at least for a night.

“I thought our poise was tremendous,” said Groce. “I was really, really proud of our poise; what an excellent learning experience for our guys.

Ohio was looking to jump out to another quick lead as they did against UT-Martin. The ‘Cats forced five turnovers in the first six minutes of the game, giving them several chances to crack the game wide open early. However, Ohio missed eight shots in that same stretch, only sinking three buckets to go ahead 9-5.

The offense was like a finicky old car taking so many sparks to get started. Cooper ended the half 2-8 from the field, while Offutt appeared to be off his game shooting only 1-5 in the first.

Luckily for the Bobcats, they were able to rely on solid defense and big contributions from Nick Kellogg and back up point guard Stevie Taylor.

Taylor scored a career-high 14 points in this game, 11 of those coming in the first half. The freshman’s stellar play helped Ohio go into the break leading 34-29. As for Cooper, he enjoys having someone to come off the bench and step up in his absence.

“[Taylor] kept us in it in the first half,” said Cooper. “He made some big plays when the shots weren’t falling for a lot of guys.”

Taylor wasn’t the only Bobcat to step up in Tuesday’s game. Ohio relied on the contributions of every player that touched the floor. Nine of the 10 Bobcats to see the floor added points to the total, four of those players were in double figures including forward Ivo Baltic.

After a performance Groce deemed not up to par, Baltic stepped up to prove he belonged in the starting lineup. The junior finished the night with 14 points and nine rebounds.

Baltic’s nine boards tied him with Offutt for the team lead and the Bobcats outrebounded the Cardinals by nine at final tally. A large hole in Ohio’s game, Groce put a large emphasis on rebounding as a testament to the team’s toughness.

“When you’re really good on the glass,” Groce said, “that shows you’re exerting a lot of energy. I thought our energy was good tonight.”

Ohio’s forwards have formed some kind of a three-headed monster. Baltic, Reggie Keely, and Jon Smith combined for 24 points and 21 rebounds Tuesday. With the lack of a true center, Ohio has relied on the variety of talents provided by its big three forwards. Baltic, Keely, and Smith have turned a hole in Ohio’s game into one of its greatest strengths. Ohio has pulled in an astounding 32 offensive rebounds in just two games.

Reggie Keely in particular has been a force for Ohio coming off the bench. Through two games, the junior forward is the Bobcats’ third leading scorer behind Cooper and Offutt.

Keely powered home a strong layup off an assist from Cooper after Coop’s three-pointer to start the overtime period. Cooper led the ‘Cats in scoring Tuesday with 21, pouring in 16 of those points in the second half and overtime.

Cooper’s leadership pushed the ‘Cats onward and upward to victory, as per the usual, but Groce’s theory stands: the Ohio Bobcats are comprised of 14 role players. The team is at its best when each player plays his role at a high level.

One of the most exciting aspects of Ohio men’s basketball, especially this season, is not knowing who will show up to lead the ‘Cats to victory. Sunday it was Walter Offutt and Reggie Keely. Tuesday brought Ivo Baltic and Stevie Taylor (and a group of enthusiastic Brazilian exchange students). D.J. Cooper has been D.J. Cooper. The college basketball season has been nothing short of exhilarating thus far. The best part is, just like that old Carpenters’ tune, “We’ve only just begun.”