Men's Basketball: Ohio outlasts Kent State in last-second thriller

Ohio guard D.J. Cooper drives the lane past Kent defender Kellon Thomas. The Bobcats defeated the Kent State Golden Flashes 69-68, Jan. 26 at the MAC Center. (Daniel Kubus | Staff Photographer)

KENT, Ohio — Forty-two seconds remained in Saturday’s game between Ohio and Kent State when Chris Evans, the Golden Flashes’ go-to senior forward, was whistled for traveling on his way to the Bobcats’ basket.

Flash forward 20 seconds and Ohio senior guard D.J. Cooper was staring down Kent State’s Kris Brewer at the top of the key, scoping out his next move. He cut toward Ohio’s bench, was double-teamed, and dished the ball to redshirt senior Walter Offutt, who promptly pushed it back.

With the shot clock winding down, he hoisted a three-point attempt that was partially blocked and hardly had a chance at the hoop.

Eight seconds remained when Evans collected the awry attempt. Ohio led 69-68.

Eight seconds later, after Kent State senior guard Randal Holt put up a runner for the win, the backboard’s red boarder was illuminated and the score that read from the above shot clock stayed unchanged.

There were many things that didn’t go Ohio’s way as the waning minutes ticked off the Memorial Athletic and Convocation Center clock, but enough of them aligned to allow it to remain perfect through six games of Mid-American Conference play for the first time since 1974.

If the rim’s back iron would have been kinder to the home team, or Holt’s shot had hung in the air just a tad differently, the game could have had a different feeling for the Bobcats (15-5, 6-0 MAC).

But neither were the case, and Ohio coach Jim Christian’s homecoming of sorts was complete with a win.

“Obviously Holt had a great look at the buzzer, but sometimes those shots go in and we’d be miserable,” Christian said. “If it doesn’t go in, we’re very happy on our three-hour bus ride home.”

What afforded them that feeling was the same set of objectives that they have set all season long. But it came down to a defensive effort that produced 13 turnovers in the second half, Cooper’s killer instinct and his connection with senior forward Reggie Keely.

The pair combined for more than 62 percent of the Bobcats’ offense, as Keely compiled 20 points and Cooper tied his season-high with a three-spot more.

The most important of their hook-ups came with less than two minutes left on the game clock. Cooper motioned for Keely at the top of the key, who darted there and set a pick, which he then spun off to move to the hoop for a feed from Cooper and two points off the glass.

Christian called the same play on Ohio’s next possession, and Kent State’s (11-9, 2-4 MAC) defenders bit too early, sending Cooper to the line for a pair of foul shots that ended up putting Ohio ahead for good.

“Both of the guys, they were sagging all game and they left late in the game because I was shooting the ball pretty good,” Cooper said, of the set play. “I just found Reg and dumped it off to him and he finished.”

Christian described Keely’s late-game impact simply.

“Those are the baskets that you have to get to win on the road,” he said. “You have to get layups. You have to get easy baskets. When he runs down the floor it opens up our three-point shooters, but also that’s the stretch of the game where those types of baskets win the game for you.”

Fitting for his return to the MAC Center, Saturday’s game was one that Christian can call a signature victory. Although one shot could have dramatically changed Ohio’s takeaway, the lone knock chalked against the Bobcats was being drastically out rebounded by 15.

Otherwise, it was the sought-after buzzer-to-buzzer effort that the coach craved.

“Regardless of the game being close or not close, this is MAC basketball, so we understand … this was going to be a 40-minute game, so without a question there are a lot of things we have to take from this,” Christian said.


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