Ohio Survives St. Bonaventure 69-64

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St. Bonaventure put Ohio to the test, forcing the Bobcats to win in the dying minutes of the game. Ohio eeked out a 69-54 victory to keep its record pristine at 6-0.

The Bobcats were down 64-63 before D.J. Cooper hit a three to give them a two-point lead with 38 seconds left in the game. One series of Ohio free throws later, the Bobcats escaped with the victory over last season’s Atlantic-10 Tournament champion Bonnies (3-2).

“It’s an opportunity to grow,” said guard Nick Kellogg, “to get better at some of the things we didn’t do so well tonight, but we’re thankful for the win.”

Cooper led the Bobcats with 16 points and eight assists Wednesday. His fellow guards, Walter Offutt and Nick Kellogg, added 14 and 13 points, respectively. Offutt scored 11 of his points in the first half to pad Ohio’s lead for the game.

After carrying an eight-point lead into the half, the Bobcats didn’t trail again until the 8:44 mark in the second half.

“I give [St. Bonaventure] a lot of credit,” said head coach Jim Christian. “They didn’t quit. They kept coming at us. Every time we made a run they made a run back.”

Ohio began the first half much like it did against Richmond, slow-moving on offense. The Bonnies played a difficult 2-3 zone, which forced Ohio to shoot outside. The Bobcats, however, went cold, shooting just 3-9 from behind the arc in the first eight minutes of the game.

D.J. Cooper opened the scoring for the ‘Cats as the shot clock wound down, stepping back and dropping a three. The Bobcats managed to get a lot of shots off from that point on, putting the ball up 27 times in the half. St. Bonaventure, on the other hand, only shot the ball 20 times, and shot a much higher percentage. The Bonnies outshot Ohio by nearly six percentage points.

St. Bonaventure shot 6-7 from three-point land in the first half, keeping the Bonnies close behind the Bobcats. As Christian said, just when Ohio seemed to be starting a run, the Bonnies would hit a three to cut off the momentum.

It was a question early in the game how long the Bonnies’ swarming defense would last. Ohio began to create offense late in the first half as the Bobcats slowed the opposing defense to a snail’s pace, digging deep into their bench in typical Ohio fashion.

The Bobcats forced St. Bonaventure into a man-to-man defense as they began hitting outside shots. For the first 13 minutes of the game Ohio shot just 3-11 from behind the arc, but shot 3-4 from that point on to end the half. Kellogg and Offutt teamed up for a string of three consecutive three-point baskets to give Ohio a burst of momentum and a five-point lead with four minutes to play in the half.

That short burst led to an eight-point Ohio lead at the half, 37-29.

The Bobcats started the second half as they did the first, a bit slow on offense to the Bonnies’ seemingly rejuvenated defense. However, the ‘Cats got the offense moving to hold its lead for the first 11 minutes of the half.

St. Bonaventure then began a run to draw the game close and eventually take the lead. A two-handed slam on the fast break by Charlon Kloof put the Bonnies in the lead with 8:29 to go. The Bobcats almost found themselves in a two-possession game after two consecutive offensive rebounds by St. Bonaventure. A three-second violation was called on Youssou Ndoye to relieve Ohio of the trouble.

T.J. Hall hit an important three with 6:25 to go in the half to bring the game to a 56-56 tie. Kellogg drove the ball coast-to-coast the following possession after a Jon Smith block to put Ohio back in the lead heading into the final six minutes.

Cooper hit the back end of two free throws to put Ohio up by one after the Bonnies’ Chris Johnson dropped a fast-break layup. The Bonnies’ Eric Mosley hit a three to give St. Bonaventure a two-point lead. Mosley led St. Bonaventure with 19 points.

Ohio failed to score a basket on its next possession and a foul put Kloof at the line. He hit the first of two free throws to put the Bonnies up by three. Jon Smith was fouled on the other end to go to the line where he hit both free throws, narrowing the St. Bonaventure lead to one.

Jim Christian called a timeout with 1:31 remaining. The ensuing play had Cooper cutting by defenders on a series of ball screens. Smith found the lane on the pick-and-roll after Ndoye hedged too far on defense. Cooper slung the ball through three defenders to hit Smith on the block for a two-handed slam to give Ohio a 63-62 lead.

“It was open earlier in the night,” said Christian, “so we went back to it. I thought Jon Smith made a phenomenal cut and D.J. found him at the right time.”

St. Bonaventure went ahead on a jumper by Johnson. The Bobcats immediately followed with a shot that certainly didn’t lack drama. Cooper hit a shot he had missed all game, pulling up for three some four feet behind the arc. Cooper dropped the shot to the deafening roar of Ohio students and fans.

The following possession, Demtrius Conger shot a three-pointer for the Bonnies that rimmed off, starting a mad frenzy for the ball. Offutt and Conger found themselves at the bottom of a pile resembling something seen on the gridiron. The fray ended in a held ball giving Ohio possession with 20 seconds remaining.

“That just shows,” said Cooper, “how willing we are to get on the floor and sacrifice our bodies.”

Kloof fouled Cooper on the inbound pass sending Ohio’s senior point guard to the line. To that point Ohio had shot just 53 percent from the free throw line. Cooper hit both free throws to put Ohio up by four.

St. Bonaventure’s following possession featured a missed three by Mosley and chased down by Kellogg. One set of free throws later, Ohio earned its sixth win of the season.

The game was Ohio’s final home game of six consecutive before finally hitting the road. The Bobcats face Robert Morris (3-4) in Pennsylvania Saturday.

*Photo credit: Kate Hiller