Bobcats Bruise Buffalo 86-68, Keely Scores Career High 19

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Mid-American Conference play opened up for all 12 conference teams and Ohio started with a bang. The Bobcats (10-5, 1-0) pummeled Buffalo 86-68 in the comforts of the Convocation Center. Reggie Keely dominated the day for Ohio, dropping a career high 19 points to go along with five rebounds.

“You’ve got to protect your home floor to have a chance to compete in this league,” said head coach Jim Christian. He added that although it is important for his guys to get off to a good start at home, they now must take the success of the past two games on the road where the Bobcats are 0-4 this season.

Ohio, on its home court, was able to trade buckets with the Bulls (5-10, 0-1) early after Keely opened the scoring with a layup in the paint. Defensive struggles, however, struck the Bobcats early. Help defense lacked, leaving lanes open for Bulls buckets and boards.

Christian ran an aggressive trapping defense, which could have been the reason for poor positioning by the ‘Cats early on. The intensity on defense did force the Bulls into mental mistakes and turnovers as they were called for two carrying violations, an over-and-back and a double-dribble in a seven-minute stretch. The Bobcats capitalized on 10 Buffalo turnovers for 14 points in the first half.

“Energy on defense for the majority of the game was what we were shooting for,” said Christian, “and I think that’s what we got.”

D.J. Cooper lit up a trey from the O in “OHIO” at center court to give Ohio a quick momentum boost and its first lead. Ivo Baltic ran the fast break on the following possession, posterizing a Buffalo defender for a slam dunk, sparking even more energy for the ‘Cats.

Ohio’s slow defense continued, however, its players getting caught out of position regularly. Cooper and Nick Kellogg wound up guarding Buffalo big men multiple times. The Bulls ended up with eight offensive rebounds in the first half, but shots weren’t falling for the men in blue. The Bulls shot just 38.2 percent on the game.

The Bulls ripped the lid off the rim for a short burst, opening up a 7-0 run as a result of Ohio’s poor defense. Christian called a 30-second timeout with 10:07 remaining after the Bulls cut Ohio’s lead to one.

Ivo Baltic came back with another fast-break jam to stop the run. Cooper drained from three on another fast break, following the script of an earlier Ohio run in reverse order to restore the Bobcats’ lead again. Those baskets marked the turnaround for Ohio. The one-point deficit was the closest Buffalo got the rest of the game.

Ohio increased its lead to ten points with yet another Cooper three with 6:38 remaining in the half. Cooper made five threes in the game and ended with 21 points on the night to go along with seven assists.

“[The high energy] starts with him,” said Christian of his point guard, “and then it needs to spread to everybody else.”

Ohio had such energy and played well on the fast break in the first half, hitting shots left and right. Kellogg hit another Ohio three to put the ‘Cats up 45-29 with 2:48 to play. The Bobcats hit nine threes on the game shooting a robust 50 percent from behind the arc. Ohio ended the half on a 33-12 run in the final 10 minutes, heading into the locker room with a 53-31 lead.

To start the second half, Keely got to the line sinking four of six free throws and added a layup to score the first six points out of the break for Ohio. Keely’s 19 points gave 37 for the past two games.

“It’s just a credit to my teammates and my point guard [Cooper],” said Keely. “If you’re in the right position and you get yourself open, he’s going to find you.”

Ohio’s success on offense continued as Cooper continued his dominance. He dropped a pass between two Buffalo defenders to T.J. Hall for a layup and then drained a three from deep on consecutive possessions to put Ohio up 64-36. Hall sank another three on the following possession from the corner to push the lead to 31. The Bulls failed to get the score closer than 18 the remainder of the game.

The Bobcats were happy to start conference play on such a solid note after last season’s collapse at Bowling Green. As mentioned, Ohio is seeking its first road win of the season when it heads to Western Michigan Saturday. The Broncos (8-6, 0-1) lost to Akron 65-43 Wednesday night.

“[Western Michigan] is going to come hungry to play and protect their home court,” he said, “so you’ve got to raise your level even more because that’s the challenge of this league.”

A win over Western Michigan would give Ohio its first 2-0 start in the MAC since 2009. Tipoff is set for 2:00 p.m. in Kalamazoo, Mich.

*Photo Credit: Kate Hiller