[Andrew Bowlby | WOUB]

Sophomore guards AJ Brown and Elmore James shine in Ohio’s 88-70 opening night victory

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) – AJ Brown and Elmore James combine for 44 points for the Ohio Bobcats (1-0) in an impressive 88-70 opening night win over the Troy Trojans (1-1).

The Bobcats tipped off their new campaign in front of their home crowd for the MAC-SBC Challenge. The Sun Belt competitor that Ohio drew was the Trojans who were coming off a victory over the Fort Lauderdale Eagles. 

But it was the Bobcats who looked like they already had games under their belt. 

In the first 10 minutes of the game, Ohio was disruptive on defense causing five quick turnovers leading to points on the other end. The Bobcats forced Troy to cough up the ball 17 times on the night.

Ohio sophomore guard AJ Brown (3) shoots a three in Ohio's game against the Troy Trojans.
Ohio sophomore guard AJ Brown (3) shoots a three in Ohio’s game against the Troy Trojans. [Conor Mallonn | WOUB]
“I think being a team that starts with four guards provides us to pressure up,” sophomore guard AJ Brown said. “We are all long and have quick hands so I think that played a factor into it.”

This strong defensive play helped the Bobcats pounce on a 13-7 lead quickly. 

Troy started to battle back midway through the first half thanks to their ability to rebound the basketball. With just under eight minutes left in the half the Bobcats were being out-rebounded 16 to 11. On the night, Ohio was out-rebounded 40 to 32.

“Rebounding has been a big issue for us,” head coach Jeff Boals said. “We are going to give up something playing small like we did. … That’s a concern. It’s been a concern from summertime so we just have to keep looking at it and preaching it and come up with those game winning plays.”

Tonight, the game winning plays began at the close of the first half. The Bobcats buttoned up the mistakes on defense and pushed the tempo on the other end. At one point in the closing moments of the half, Ohio was on an 18-0 run to gain its biggest lead of the game, 41-21, with about a minute and a half left to play.

The Bobcats would close the first 20 minutes on a 20-7 run and go into the break up 43-28.

“Everybody was just sharing the ball,” said sophomore guard Elmore James. “We have a pretty deep team and we understand that we have a lot of players that can put the ball in the hoop. So once we got to sharing and everyone having fun everyone was smiling and we were just flowing from that point on.”

Ohio would use that momentum in the second half and coasted to a 88-70 victory over the Trojans.

A big reason for the success down the stretch was the ability to convert at the free throw line. The Bobcats went an impressive 27-for-32 from the stripe, not allowing Troy to claw back into the game.

Another key to the ballgame was the stellar play from Ohio’s two talented young guards: AJ Brown and Elmore James.

The two combined for 45 points and shot a collective 17-for-28 from the field.

“AJ and Elmore, this game was built for those two,” Boals said. “To have two sophomores step up the way that they did was obviously really big for us.”

Ohio sophomore guard Elmore James (1) shoots a contested layup for Ohio in its game against the Troy Trojans.
Ohio sophomore guard Elmore James (1) shoots a contested layup for Ohio in its game against the Troy Trojans. [Conor Mallonn | WOUB]

The duo got it done in two different ways.

James contributed 20 of the 45 and mainly lived in the paint. The slashing guard plays physical down low and doesn’t let the size mismatch phase him.

“Obviously we may not have the size of other teams, but I feel like you have to have heart over height,” James said. “I feel like we executed that well today, we were tougher overall and we were able to get the dub that way.”

Meanwhile Brown, who finished the contest with 24 points, can create his own shot and score on all three levels. Senior guard Jaylin Hunter described the young player as a star in the preseason and this performance only validates that statement. Brown shot an efficient 10-for-15 from the field and three-for-five from deep in the contest.

“I was feeling pretty good,” Brown said. “My teammates were putting me in great positions and the crowd just boosted that up ten times.”

It’s a strong start to the season for the Bobcats who now turn their attention to the Cleveland State Vikings.

The two teams battle it out on Nov. 11 in Cleveland.