Men's Basketball: Bobcats quell Bonnie comeback, seal victory

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The Ohio bench celebrates after D.J. Cooper makes a three-pointer late in the 4th quarter to take the lead as the Bobcats defeat St. Bonaventure 69-64 at The Convo on Nov. 28. (Dan Kubus | Staff Photographer)

With 23 seconds remaining, St. Bonaventure senior forward Demitrius Conger rose for a three-point shot that would give the Bonnies a one-point advantage against Ohio.

The ball clanked off the iron, though, and fell to the floor. Quicker than The Convo crowd of 6,389 could let out a collective roar, a handful of players had already hit the floor in pursuit of the loose ball.

Ohio senior guard D.J. Cooper was among the last to hit the dog pile, hurtling from several feet out to ensure the ball didn’t get loose — emulating his best impression of an NFL defensive end, he said.  

Ohio coach Jim Christian has said all season long that the Bobcats are looking to establish a team identity. It’s safe to say they found it somewhere between Cooper’s hurtling leap and the ball at the bottom of the pileup, as Ohio iced its 69-64 win soon thereafter.

Fast-forward four seconds, and Cooper is at the free throw line, where he knocked down a pair of shots from 15 feet out to bring the Bobcats’ lead to four.

Rewind to the game’s 38-second mark, and Cooper is releasing an especially lengthy three-pointer in open space — one that dropped through the twine like a bomb to the Bonnies’ comeback attempt.

He wasn’t expecting to take the shot, per se, but he let instincts take over. They didn’t lead him astray.

“I didn’t plan on that,” Cooper said. “When I was bringing the ball down, I didn’t think about it. I was just trying to attack. … I was open.”

The Bobcats made the most of those openings late in the game, following a previous stretch in which they allowed the Bonnies to burst into the lead with a four-minute, 11-point run with flawless conversions on every opportunity.

Ohio made good of each of its seven scoring opportunities within the last two-and-half minutes, while St. Bonaventure dropped only a single shot through the twine during that time period.

“Every night’s not going to be pretty,” Christian said. “So you have to find your ways to grind it out when you can. Tonight’s (was) one of those nights where they’re a veteran, experienced, physically strong basketball team, so it’s going to be a grind-out game.”

The Bobcats let the grind get to them in the foul department, as senior forward Ivo Baltic and redshirt senior guard Walter Offutt were confined to the bench for parts of the second half because of four personal fouls apiece. Junior guard Ricardo Johnson had three in 11 minutes of play, and senior forward Reggie Keely was kept to only three minutes in the first half because of a pair of early fouls just more than a minute apart.

The game was Ohio’s fifth in 13 days, and Christian said the drag of Ohio’s late-November schedule played a factor in the Bobcats’ on-floor positioning at times.

“I was concerned about it, especially when we got in foul trouble,” Christian said. “I think some of the fouls were position fouls where guys were just a step late, and that might have just been fatigue a little bit. But you have to find a way to gut it out, and I think we did.”

Redshirt junior forward Jon Smith, who cemented himself as a force in Keely’s absence, did much of Ohio’s dirty work. He had four blocks, as many rebounds, three steals and six points on 50 percent shooting in a season-high 29 minutes.

Junior forward T.J. Hall also stepped up when called upon, putting forth seven points and knocking down a crucial three to end a St. Bonaventure run with 6:33 remaining.   

Ohio forced 20 turnovers, from which it scored 21 points. St. Bonaventure won the rebounding battle by a seven-grab margin and also equaled Ohio’s 22 points in the paint.  

Christian was pleased with the Bobcats’ end result, noting that there were a lot of little things he would be able to draw upon watching the game tape.

“We huddle up after every game, and I say the same thing to them every time,” he said. “‘The only thing you can hope to be after six games is 6-0. Nobody asks how.’ ”

If a win is what the Bobcats find at the bottom of an eight-man pileup, nobody will think twice when they dive on in.

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