Updated Sat, Mar 9, 2013 11:09 pm
The Ohio Basketball class of 2013 added a regular season MAC championship to its list of accomplishments Saturday, defeating rival Miami (OH) on Senior Day at the Convocation Center, 58-54.
“It’s a great accomplishment (to win a MAC regular season title).” Ohio coach Jim Christian said. “I have so much respect for the league and I know how hard it is to do … What these guys did is now a goal and a bar to be set forever for Ohio.”
As part of the Day’s festivities, Ohio seniors Nick Goff, David McKinley, Ivo Baltic, Reggie Keely, Walter Offutt and D.J. Cooper were recognized before their final game in the Convo for their accomplishments in Green and White. Christian went with an all-senior starting lineup of Cooper, Offutt, McKinley, Keely and Baltic, and planned to start Goff for the second half, until Ohio found itself downs at the break.
“On senior night you just really never know,” Christian said. “You just never know how seniors are going to react, and I thought it kind of drained us. We came out a little flat.”
An early run gave Ohio a 7-2 advantage at the first media timeout, but Miami did a good job early of being annoying on defense.
The RedHawks’ combination of length and ball pressure forced the Bobcats into several bad possessions from the first media timeout to the end of the first half.
Ohio went to the locker room down 28-22 with a sub-20 first-half shooting percentage and seven turnovers against Miami’s pesky defense. Four of those turnovers came in four minutes from the 15:37 mark to the 11:24 mark in the opening frame.
“I though (the opening ceremonies) kind of drained us,” Christian said. “We just couldn’t make any shots, we just didn’t have any flow or rhythm to what we were doing.”
Cooper carried the Bobcats in the first half with 10 points on 10 shots. Miami frequently sent double teams his way in an effort to disrupt the flow of the Ohio offense.
The offensive struggles continued into the beginning of the second half for Ohio while Miami started to find its shooting stroke.
The Bobcats made just three of their first 11 shots out the locker room as their rivals from Southwest Ohio extended their lead to double digits and held an 11-point advantage through the 12:00 mark.
But Stevie Taylor and Jon Smith would provide a spark for the Bobcats after the under-12:00 media stoppage.
Taylor hit an open 24-foot 3 from the left wing off a pass from Baltic to ignite the Convo crowd for the first time since the opening tip. On the ensuing Miami possession, Taylor’s on-ball defense, beloved by Bobcat fans, forced a shot clock violation. And on the other end, Smith tipped in a put-back and-one bucket off a Cooper missed 3, then followed his miss at the free throw line with another tip-in to cut the lead to 5.
“Coach just talked about (how) we need a spark,” Taylor said. “We’re out there playing with no rhythm, and I feel like that’s my role on the team. I just did my role tonght.”
“I was really disappointed with what I did in the first half,” Smith said. “Coach in the locker room (said) ‘Just play.’ And I figured ‘Hey, just listen to him, go out there and play.’ I didn’t really think, I just went out and tried to have a high motor.”
A 3 by Walter Offutt and a steal and a coast-to-coast layup by Taylor tied the game at 44. A Cooper 3 from the left corner on the next possession gave Ohio the lead just under the 7:00 mark.
Ohio would not relinquish the lead for the remainder of the game as Christian stuck with the lineup of Taylor, Cooper, Offutt, Smith and Baltic through the 3:07 mark.
“(We) Played a bunch of different combinations just to try to find one that would give us the right energy,” Christian said. “We put D.J. and Stevie (in), Jon gave us a ridiculous lift off the bench, and that’s what has to happen.”
A right baseline jumper by Nick Kellogg and an emphatic block by Smith on the defensive end in the final 25 seconds would seal the deal.
“They just controlled the tempo of the game from the beginning,” Christian said on the slow start that nearly derailed the Bobcats. “At halftime I was just making sure we kept our composure … We’re probably going to be down 6 or 8 again, and you just got to go possession by possession.”
Cooper led the scoring with 17 points while Smith added 9 points – all in the second half – 10 rebounds and two blocks. Six of Smith’s rebounds came on the offensive end.
Taylor’s 5 points and three steals in the second half were instrumental in the comeback as well.
“I was really proud of the way we fought to get a share of that championship on a night where we didn’t play well," Christian said. "We had to find a way.”
With the win, Ohio captures its first regular season MAC championship since 1995 after consecutive losses by Akron to end the season make for a tie atop the conference standings. The Bobcats also achieved a school-record 14 MAC wins in 2013.
“It was a first experience, at least during the regular season,” Cooper said. “We took care of business, 14-2 in the league, it feels good.”
But regular season accomplishments aside, the focus immediately shifts to next week’s MAC Tournament in Cleveland, where Ohio has the No. 2 seed and will not play until the semifinals Friday.
“It feels good because it’s a goal accomplished, but we got more goals,” Smith said on the MAC regular season title as Christian nodded his head. “We celebrate tonight, and then tomorrow it’s on to the tourney.