Updated Sat, Feb 18, 2012 10:31 pm
Ohio gave reason for the title of “bracketbuster” Saturday night, bringing home its second consecutive victory, taking down UNC-Asheville 81-62 in front of a national audience in its ESPNU Bracketbuster game. The win puts Ohio at 21-6 on the season with its conference record remaining static at 8-4.
The difference in the game was almost literally Walter Offutt. Offutt led the Bobcats with 19 points in a 19-point victory. The big lead remained constant for most of the second half with the Bulldogs never getting closer than 14. Much of the success can be attributed to the Bobcats’ defense. Ohio managed to keep the ‘Dogs far away from the lead for the duration of the second half.
“[Finishing] is one thing coach [John Groce] emphasized from the start of the season,” Offutt said. “Great teams know how to finish games and that’s something we continue to work on throughout the season.”
The final 20 minutes were nothing more than Ohio making the blowout a bit more slow and painful for UNC-Asheville. With each Bulldogs basket, the ‘Cats had one to match. Although UNC-Asheville more than doubled its scoring output in the first half – 18 first half points, 44 second half – Ohio still managed to outscore the Bulldogs by three in the final period.
T.J. Hall hit a layup at the halftime buzzer to put Ohio in the locker room with a 16-point lead. Once again, much of that lead could be accredited to the ‘Cats’ terrific defense. Ohio held UNC-Asheville to just 18 points in the first half on 22 percent shooting. The Bulldogs made only one three-pointer in the first half.
Ohio’s offense was on fire from the opening tip and Stevie Taylor lit that fire. The freshman point guard scored 10 of his 12 points in the first half. Taylor scored eight points in a two-minute stretch early in the half in the midst of Ohio’s defensive domination. He also added three steals to his stat line.
“[Taylor] sparked us on offense with the run,” Groce said. “I thought that opened the game up.”
The Bobcats will be able to enjoy this one-game break from the conference schedule in the immediate wake of the win. However, Groce says Ohio’s focus must quickly return to finishing off the season.
“We needed to take a step forward tonight,” Groce said. “The last thing we wanted to do was piggyback the Bowling Green game and take a step backward regardless of who we were playing whether it was conference or non-conference…we can’t afford to do that.”
The team’s final four games are all against MAC East opponents with three of those games coming on the road. The lone home game comes against Akron in a nationally televised contest Sunday, February 26. The ‘Cats last game against the Zips resulted in an Ohio loss.
Ohio’s next game comes Wednesday as the team travels to Buffalo for a rematch with the Bulls. In the two teams’ last contest, Ohio emerged victorious to pick up its first conference win of the season. The Bobcats are fighting for a first round bye in the MAC Tournament.