Men’s Basketball: Ohio Survives Toledo, Advances To MAC Semis

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               1st     2nd    Total
Toledo      24       33      57
Ohio         26       39      65

Overview: Ohio head coach John Groce and Ohio's players said in practice this week that a Bobcats' run through the MAC tournament would be fueled by defense and rebounding. Check and check. Ohio weathered a 26-point, 27 percent shooting first half, and led Toledo 26-24 at the break. The Bobcats exploded in the opening minutes of the second half and never looked back, winning 65-57 and tying the 1993-94 team for the most wins in a season with 25.

Turning Point: Coach Groce identifies four, four-minute wars in each game that are key stretches for his teams–the opening and closing four minutes of each half. The Bobcats won the opening "four-minute war" of the second half 13-6 to lead 39-30 (part of an 18-6 run, which put Ohio up 44-30 by the first media timeout). Ohio's lead swelled to as large as 16 points (48-32 with 12:58 left). Offutt had five of his 13 points in the opening four minutes. Jon Smith threw in a layup, Nick Kellogg chipped in four points on two baskets off the dribble (rarely seen by number-15) and Dj Cooper had two points and two assists in the opening four minutes of the second half.

The other important stretch from Thursday's game was from 12:58 to 8:30 remaining in the second half. Ohio led 48-32 after a Reggie Keely dunk. Toledo went on an 11-2 run in the four minutes led by five points from Matt Smith and four from Dennis Curtis. The Rockets cut the Bobcats' lead to seven points (50-43); Ohio needed an answer to Toledo's run and what else would stop it, but a deep three from Cooper to push the advantage back to double digits (53-43), effectively ending any comeback threat from the Rockets. Dj, a player that likes to chat with opponents, gave a look to a rowdy Rocket fan after draining the trey bomb.

"That's a 50-50 play, it probably wasn't the best shot at the time… Coach says players make plays at this time in the season and I felt I could make that shot, so I stepped up and knocked it down."– Cooper on the shot.

"He was just being a fan, saying some things, over there by the sidelines, hoping we would miss." After the shot went down Cooper's reaction… "I just looked at him"

Key Players: Dj Cooper led all scorers with 18 points, he also dished out five assists and had five rebounds. The point guard's only made field goals were from beyond-the-arc where he was 3-7 (3-10 overall). Cooper did the rest of his damage from the free throw line, a place the 'Cats shot just 17-24, he was 9-11 from the charity stripe.

Ivo Baltic was key in Ohio's win. Although Baltic only scored two points, his defense and rebounding, which has been Ohio's identity this season, propelled the Bobcats to the victory. The junior forward hauled in nine rebounds (3 off, 6 def). Ohio is 12-0 this season when Baltic grabs six or more boards. Groce decided to put more height on Toledo's Rian Pearson, who shredded the 'Cats in the first match up for 18 points and 17 rebounds. The decision to add height put Baltic on Pearson for stretches of the game and Baltic delivered. Pearson was held to eight points on the night and only one point in the first half.  

Key Stats: One of the key numbers was mentioned in the paragraph before. A gang of Bobcats held one of the MAC's best players to eight points on 2-7 shooting and also forced him into four turnovers.

The other number that jumps out from the box score is the rebounding margin. Ohio beat Toledo on the glass 38-29 including a 15-5 advantage on the offensive boards, which led to a 13-4 advantage on second points. When the Rockets beat the Bobcats on Feb. 8, Toledo won the battle on the boards 43-32, sparking a comparison from Groce to Ohio's "soft" loss to Bowling Green in the opener to conference play. Ohio's edge on the glass also aided a 28-16 advantage in the paint. 

"The reason we had a two-point lead after the first half, while our offense was shooting so poorly, was our defense and rebounding." Groce said on the rebounding in the first half. "As long as our defense and rebounding is there you've got a chance." Groce on his team's rebounding effort.

Next Up: #3 Ohio takes on #2 Buffalo tomorrow night at 9:30. The Bobcats are 2-0 against the Bulls and have out rebounded Buffalo in both contests this season. Buffalo is 14th in the nation in rebounds per game and feature a dominant inside game with the MAC's Player of the Year Mitchell Watt and All-MAC First Teamer Javon McCrea.