Men’s Basketball: Ohio Makes Statement Against UMES

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The Ohio men’s basketball team returned home Saturday after a tough loss on the road Wednesday in Amherst, Ma., looking to end a recent string of tough losses with a statement. Ohio did just that, thoroughly beating Maryland Eastern-Shore 93-57.

For the first time this season, Ohio head coach Jim Christian decided to mix up the starting lineups, starting Ricardo Johnson and Reggie Keely in favor of the recently struggling Jon Smith and Ivo Baltic.

“That's what teams have to do. When guys are called upon they have to rise up and that's what good teams do,” said Christian after the game when asked about the lineup changes. “Like everybody else we’re trying to come up with the right combinations for us. If that combination is the right one, then we’ll stick with it for a bit…I have confidence in each and every guy who steps out on that floor.”

The move seemed to pay off as Baltic and Smith each had huge nights off the bench, and Keely put up impressive numbers offensively.

Both teams were shooting lights out from behind the arc with Ohio senior guard Walter Offutt and UMES junior guard Louis Bell each draining two threes in the first 3:30. The first four minutes of the game was a flurry of threes and lead changes until the ‘Cats managed to take the lead for the third and final time of the game on a layup by Keely. The ‘Cats put the pedal to floor and cruised to a commanding victory. Ohio put up huge numbers and came one assist shy of breaking the team record of 29 assists in a game.

The difference, however, was in the tempo. Christian and the ‘Cats were able to control the pace of the game early running the floor and transitioning well. The break neck tempo was too much for UMES and after a series of sloppy, costly fouls by the Hawks, Ohio tied the game at 10 with 15:53 left in the half. The ‘Cats took control of the game from that point, keeping the tempo up.

Ohio was playing their style of game all afternoon, moving the ball well, gaining a team total of 15 assists in the first half alone, with Cooper notching nine of those. The ‘Cats defense and ability to run the court was forcing issues for UMES all throughout the first half. The Hawks gave up 16 turnovers and were dominated for much of the first half, as the ‘Cats leapt out to a 51-32 lead at half, their largest lead at half this season.

Ohio’s bench dominated, with all 13 eligible players seeing the court for at least three minutes this afternoon. Ohio managed to outscore UMES thanks in large part to their bench, which outgained the Hawk’s bench by an eye-popping 54-11 for the game. Ohio kept up the fast pace they had in the first half, continuing to rotate guys in and out all game. The freshness of Ohio, especially its bigs, helped immensely.

The ‘Cats picked up where they left off and continued to sprint full speed to the end of the game, never letting up. Despite being outrebounded by nine in the first half, the ‘Cats added 23 boards in the second half thanks in large part to Baltic (6 rebounds) and Smith (5 rebounds), both of whom came off the bench again in the second half. The dominance in the paint and on the glass transitioned to easy interior points for Ohio. Keely, Baltic, Smith and Kadeem Green were driving through the lane and seemingly dropping it in with ease. The four big men each managed to score in double digits, Keely and Baltic led with 12 each and Green and Smith added 10 apiece.

With 10:30 on the clock Jon Smith gave Ohio a 32-point lead, 72-40, after a vicious two handed slam, illustrating Ohio’s dominance inside. Smith followed up with another slam less than two minutes later on an assist by Cooper, his 14th in the game to that point.

Led by Cooper with a season high 14 assists, just two shy of tying the Ohio single game record and one shy of his personal career-high, Ohio moved the ball well, getting everyone involved and keeping the Hawks defense on its toes. Ohio had 6 players score in double figures with Offutt and Wilkins leading the way with 15 and 14, respectively. Cooper added another 9 to go along with his 14 dimes and Smith led the team with three blocks.

“I think with how we played tonight, each individual was willing to share the ball and give the extra pass. We didn’t play selfishly and everybody came together and played as a team,” said Wilkins after the game.

“I think there’s some truth to that,” added Christian.

 The ‘Cats were back to their pesky ways on defense after a couple rough games. The team managed to force 24 UMES turnovers, 12 off of steals, which added another 30 points. Smith and Baltic, sparking the defense off the bench led the team with three and two blocks, respectively.

Cooper thought the win was just what Ohio needed after a tough stretch of losses.

“Everybody's in good spirits and just getting ready to try and get a win on the road,” Cooper said. “We haven’t had a win on the road yet this season.”

Christian added that while the numbers were nice, the only goal for today was to improve.

“We were playing one game today: let’s get better,” added Christian. “We have two days to get ready for Oklahoma, another unbelievably hard test on the road…we don’t care about anything else. The only thing you have to worry about is what’s in front of you and can you do the job.”

The ‘Cats will be off until next Saturday when they head to Norman, Ok. to take on a Sooners team that is currently 7-3, coming off a one-point loss to Stephen F. Austin at home on the Dec. 18.