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Men's Basketball: Ohio tips off regular season against Portland
It's been well more than seven months since Ohio left the floor of the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, the less fortunate competitor of a back-and-forth overtime game.
The Bobcats will be honored for their NCAA Tournament run Saturday in their season-opener at The Convo, in a matchup with Portland that has been dubbed a "Sweet 16 Celebration."
Coach Jim Christian, who will be managing his first game for the Bobcats, said the pregame hoopla is a distraction, but a good one, and one he said was well-earned by last year's Bobcats.
"These kids deserve to have those types of nights, but they have to understand that there’s another team coming to spoil that party," he said.
Portland's strength lies in its interior play, which is led by forward Ryan Nicholas, but is channeled through a trio of guards that averaged more than 10 points apiece during exhibition.
Christian said the Pilots' experience on the perimeter will make for a good season-opening test.
"They’re a very disciplined defensive basketball team that has a lot of guys back," he said.
When it all comes down to it, Ohio redshirt senior guard Walter Offutt said the Bobcats' minds are in the right place to kick off a season chock full of expectations.
“In the back of my mind, I know we’re doing (the celebrations,) but really the only thing I’m focused on is winning the ball game,” he said.
The Bobcats' 2012 Sweet 16 banner took a place between their 1964 Elite Eight banner and Frank Baumholtz's retired No. 54.
Look back at the Bobcats' exhibition game, a 40-point win against Mercyhurst, here.
Ohio's starters, per the usual, are redshirt senior guard Walter Offutt, senior guard D.J. Cooper, junior guard Nick Kellogg, senior forward Ivo Baltic and redshirt junior forward Jon Smith.
Smith won the tip for Ohio to begin the game. From there, Baltic looked for a long tip, but was denied off the front of the rim.
On Ohio's next possession, Cooper knocked down the game's first three-pointer to give the Bobcats their first lead of the game.
Offutt hit the Bobcats' next three, but with 16:20 remaining in the first half, the Pilots led 10-6.
Senior forward Reggie Keely checked into the game at that point. Christian said that it's imperative for Ohio to establish a post game if it wants to be able to spread the floor for open three-pointers.
The Pilots extended their lead to 14-6 with 15 minutes remaining in the half on a long jumper from Nicholas.
However, after a steal on their next time down the floor, Keely made his presence known with a strong one-handed drive and dunk.
With 14 minutes remaining in the half, forward T.J. Hall and guard Ricardo Johnson, both juniors, checked in for the Bobcats.
Kellogg knocked down his first three-point try on its next trip down the floor, making good of a cross-court dish from Cooper.
After a steal and from Cooper, Kellogg hit another three — this time from the opposite wing — the Bobcats brought the score to 16-14 Portland with 12 minutes remaining in the half.
At that point, Ohio was five-for-eight from three-point range. Also, sophomore guard Stevie Taylor and new guard, junior Travis Wilkins, checked into the ballgame.
Wilkins knocked down his first three from the corner and grabbed a rebound in his first minute of gameplay. The triple gave Ohio its second lead of the game — 17-16 with 10 minutes left in the first half.
The three was also the final points of an 11-point run for the Bobcats, during which they held the Pilots scoreless.
Portland guard Tanner Riley then countered with another three-pointer before Cooper hit a runner in the lane to give the Bobcats a 23-21 lead with 7 minutes on the first half clock.
Riley hit another three from the left wing to put the Pilots ahead on their next possession.
At that point, Ohio had hit five of nine threes, but had yet to establish an interior presence. Christian said throughout the week that post play would be key in allowing Ohio to spread the floor and kick out for threes. The second half of that equation was ticking just fine, but after the half he will be looking for a much improved inside game.
Wilkins made the Bobcats' first trip to the free throw line at that point, making one of two, while the Pilots had eight points from the charity stripe.
With two minutes remaining in the opening half, both teams had hit 50 percent of their three point attempts.
The teams traded and-one opportunitites with time winding down in the first half, Cooper missing his extra point opportunity and Thomas Van Der Mars taking advantage of his.
Cooper ended the half by knocking down a very deep three-pointer and taking a Baltic steal the distance for another two points, bringing the score to a tie at 33.
First Half: Ohio 33, Portland 33
Ohio has plenty to correct looking back at the first half, being that its perimeter defense was average at best and presence in the paint was no better in the opening stanza.
Keely, Christian's go-to post player, had only six minutes in the half because of two early fouls, while Baltic settled for mostly mid-range jumpers, of which he hit only one of nine.
The Bobcats allowed their opponent to shoot 46 percent from beyond the arc, hitting four of eight in the first half.
Ohio's brightest first half takeaway was the play of Cooper, who had 15 points on six-of-11 shooting, three assists and as many steals.
The Bobcats committed eight turnovers in the first half, setting themselves a bit over the mark for Christian's goal of 12 or fewer per game.
Baltic opened the second half on a promising note for Ohio, rocking the rim with two hands on a fast break feed from Offutt, who cashed in on a similar play the next time down the floor.
Baltic also put up another two points on the Bobcats' third possession, upping his point total to six on the day.
It became obvious early on in the half that Christian stressed interior play, as Baltic was much more active in the paint, putting up several shots from in close.
Keely checked back into the game under the same model, making good of an offensive rebound for a three-point play.
At that point, the Pilots had committed 16 turnovers in the game, as opposed to Ohio's nine.
With 15 minutes remaining in the game, Offutt drove the lane from the right corner and threw up a wild layup, which was collected by Keely, who once again put it back en route to a three-point play.
The Bobcats' interior presence sure enough freed up space for Kellogg to knock down his fourth three of the game on their next trip down the floor. Keely took a feed in the post, from which he distributed the ball to Cooper on the wing, who hit Kellogg on the opposite side for three.
Ohio led Portland 54-39 with 12:35 to go in the game. It held the Pilots to two-of-11 shooting up to that point.
Cooper played every minute but one in the first half, but was on the court for only half of the second half. However, he checked back in at the 9:35 mark to lead Ohio down the stretch.
He fed Smith for perhaps the Bobcats' most athletic play of the game on his second trip down the floor, hitting him with a screen-style pass in the paint for an up-and-under gem.
The Bobcats had extended their lead to 15 by the 8:20 mark. For the first time since the first half, Ohio's starting five was on the court at once.
Cooper continued to show considerable court vision with time winding down, feeding Kellogg and Hall on cross-court looks, on which they cashed in.
The Bobcats' defense began to settle into its own, as well, forcing less than 25 percent shooting at the game's six-minute mark.
Baltic highlighted the game's final stretch with an emphatic two-handed slam, improving his shooting percentage to five-of-14 for 10 points to that point.
The Bobcats ended the game on two straight mid-range jumpers from Keely, upping his point total to 13 on the day.
Final: Ohio 81, Portland 52
Ohio pulled away in the second half, taking a tied game and turning it into a rout. The Bobcats had 48 second half points, as opposed to the Pilots' 19 in the second half.
The Bobcats shot 62 percent from the floor after the break, improving upon a 41 percent performance in the first half.
Kellogg: 18 points, 4-of-5 from the field, 4-of-4 from three
Cooper: 18 points, six assists, five rebounds, three steals
Keely: 13 points, five rebounds
Baltic: 10 points, four rebounds
Nicholas: 16 points, 11 rebounds
Kevin Bailey: 9 points, 4 assists
Tanner Riley: 7 points, 3 assists
Thomas Van Der Mars: 7 points, 5 rebounds
"It’s only normal to get caught up in the emotion and kind of forget about the fundamentals and Xs and Os and feed off the hype. I feel like we did a better job of settling down in the second half and getting back to our game." — Kellogg, on the hype that surrounded the season-opener
“A good basketball team picks each other up. When somebody’s having an off night, as long as they’re taking shots and are in the flow I’m fine with it.” — Christian, on individual performances in the first half
"I wasn’t alarmed it was tied. I wasn’t alarmed that we were down. You just have to play. You just have to keep playing and do what you have to do. Nobody’s scared of you." — Christian on Ohio's early deficit
"I thought we did a much better job guarding one-on-one about five or six feet from the rim. I think what happened is, when you’re in good position, you make steals. We didn’t get great turnovers out our press — we had a few, but not as much as we’d like — but we were really fundamental in the second half, being in our spots, and that’s why we made plays." — Christian, on defensive changes in the second half
"After the first four-minute war, it’s back to playing ball. It’s them versus us. Just block all that out and try to get the win." — Cooper, on the emotion attached to the season-opener
“It’s probably a little bit harder for (bench players,) because (the starters) into the flow and start easier. To come off the bench and handle that emotion, I think it’s a tough haul for those guys ... You’re not going to be able to weather the storms we’re going to have and not have productivity off the bench, both offensively and defensively. We have to keep developing that and let them play through some mistakes." — Christian, on the play of his reserves