Men's basketball: Bobcats crush Portland in opener, Smith shows consistent defense

Jon Smith goes for the layup in between two defenders against Portland at the Convocation Center on Nov 10. Ohio defeated the Portland Pilots 81-52. (Jason Chow | Staff Photographer)

When Ohio coach Jim Christian met redshirt junior forward Jon Smith last spring, he wasn’t sure what he could expect from him on the court.

Since then, Smith and the rest of the Bobcats’ interior corps have made an indelible impression on their new coach, putting in their due diligence in hopes of elevating their game come tipoff time.

“Jon’s a very smart, smart player,” Christian said. “You don’t appreciate him until you play five-on-five.”

The big picture for Ohio’s young season is rosy, as Ohio received six votes in this week’s Associated Press poll and tallied another in the USA Today/Coaches poll, but much of its success depends on its ability to spread the floor, which hinges on positive post play.

Smith was the Bobcats’ most consistent interior defender in Saturday’s season-opener, collecting a team-high eight rebounds and four blocks. Although Smith didn’t chip in much on the offensive side, where he knocked down only one bucket, Christian said he was happy with the role Smith was cast — limiting the action of Portland sophomore center Thomas van der Mars.

“With the exception of one basket, he did a great job of the game plan of not letting giving him any angles to score, (and) he stayed within himself on offense.”

Saturday’s second-half rout showcased the effort Ohio can put forth when aided by a two-dimensional attack, both on the defensive glass and by posting up in the paint.

After being marred by foul trouble in the first half, senior forwards Reggie Keely and Ivo Baltic more than doubled their offensive output in the second stanza.
Keely poured in 11 points and grabbed three offensive rebounds after the break, and Baltic responded well to a pep talk from Christian after a disastrous 1-for-9 first-half shooting performance.

“I grabbed Ivo before we went in the locker room at halftime,” Christian said. “I said, ‘That 20 minutes is gone. You don’t ever get it back. You have 20 minutes left now to go out and play the way you’re capable of playing, how you know how to play.’ I thought he did a good job.”

Baltic had eight points on only one miss from the floor in the second half.

Junior guard Nick Kellogg said establishing a multi-faceted attack is imperative if the Bobcats want to create increased opportunities from beyond the arc.

“To have an inside presence like Reggie, it helps our whole team,” Kellogg said. “It’s not just me, it helps (D.J.) Coop(er), myself, Walter (Offutt) — it creates driving lanes for them and helps create open shots.”

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