Men’s Basketball: Cooper Bruised As ‘Cats Cruise

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The Ohio men’s basketball team has stamped its name all over the MAC West thus far, winning its fourth consecutive game against cross-conference foes. The Bobcats took down Central Michigan 68-42 Saturday afternoon in the Convocation Center. The team is now the proud owner of a 19-4 overall record, 7-2 in the MAC.

The Bobcats finished off the game by setting the nets ablaze, shooting 50 percent from the field and an astronomical 70 percent from three in the second half. Walter Offutt put in another stellar performance for Ohio with 17 points to lead the team while also adding five rebounds. Offutt was coming off 19 points against Northern Illinois.

The ‘Cats finished the game without their starters in the game, which was bound to happen given the score down the stretch. However, D.J. Cooper was taken out for a different reason. Ohio’s star point guard left the game with an apparent wrist injury late in the contest.

"We’ll X-ray it for sure," said head coach John Groce, "just like we would for anybody on the team, just to make sure. But [the team doctor] thinks it looks pretty favorable."

The ‘Cats look to have Cooper back as soon as possible. His contributions in this game certainly didn’t go unnoted. The junior guard played a well-rounded game, finishing with nine points, seven assists, seven rebounds and a blocked shot to boot. Cooper came into Saturday’s game averaging about 25 points, five assists, five rebounds and four steals against the Chippewas.

Ohio’s success in this game can be attributed to its team defense. The Bobcats held Central Michigan to an abysmal 28.8 percent shooting from the field and the Chips netted only four three-pointers on the game. Even more impressive was the fact that Ohio held the opposing team to more than 20 points below its average. Central Michigan came into the game putting up 63.3 points per game. The Chips could only muster two points in the final six minutes of play.

"[Coach Groce] wanted to finish the game strong," said Offutt. "That’s one thing we struggle with…I think we did a good job of continuing to play even though we were up big."

The ‘Cats were in need of a big finish heading into halftime. Although Ohio was up by 13 at the end of the first half, the team shot only 32 percent from the field, 20 percent from behind the arc. Ohio had jacked up 20 three-pointers in the first half and didn’t appear to be getting anything on offense, but somehow maintained a lead.

Nick Kellogg felt the force of the mid-game cold streak as well. He finished the game with 14 points, good for second on Ohio with 12 of those coming from behind the arc. as per usual. Kellogg had a gap, however, between made threes. He started the game with two three-pointers as Ohio opened up a 9-1 lead just minutes into the contest, but didn’t hit another three-pointer until the start of the second half.

"It feels good to knock down a couple shots," said Kellogg. "Obviously, Coach [Groce] never tells us to turn down wide open looks. That’s what we got and he told us to keep shooting them. Eventually they started to fall."

The problems clearly didn’t last long as Ohio pulled ahead quickly and didn’t take its foot off the gas, leading by as much as 26 in the game. This is the second consecutive game for the ‘Cats in which they’ve led by 20 points or more at some point in the game. It could be exactly the remedy the team needed after the notorious cold streak it suffered coming back from winter break in which they went 1-3.

Now Ohio is riding the wave of a six-game winning streak, recovering what could have been a lost conference season. The ‘Cats have eight games left before kicking off the MAC Tournament with their next coming across the conference aisle once again when they travel to Toledo. Ohio’s matchup with the Rockets is one of five road games to finish out the regular season.