In their previous game on Saturday, the Buffalo Bulls managed to do something that the Ohio Bobcat men's basketball team was unable to do in two attempts this season – defeat the Akron Zips (81-67) to hand Akron its first conference defeat of the season. The Buffalo win also snapped a 19-game win streak for Akron.
With Buffalo being the only Mid-American Conference team to have defeated the mighty Zips this season, the visiting Bobcats could not afford to overlook the 12-17 Bulls entering Tuesday's matchup. Powered by a heavy dose of pressure defense and some late-game heroics from D.J. Cooper and Reggie Keely, the 'Cats proved they were up to the challenge, coming away with the 72-69 road win.
The Bulls picked up where they left off against Akron, moving out to a 10-point lead before Ohio guard Nick Kellogg's two-point basket closed the gap to 12-4. With the 'Cats down 16-4, Cooper drained his 260th career shot from beyond the arc to pass Tommy Freeman as the school's all-time leader in three-pointers made.
But Cooper wasn't done. After a pair of baskets each from Stevie Taylor and Ivo Baltic, Cooper sank another three-pointer to become the fifth Bobcat to go over the 2,000 career point mark. With the accomplishment of this latest feat, Cooper set himself apart from every other NCAA Division-I player who has ever played basketball, as he is now the only player to record 2,000 points, 900 assists, 600 rebounds and 300 steals in a career.
A pair of free throws from guard Walter Offutt with 8:02 left in the first half gave Ohio its first lead of the game, 24-23. The teams continued to trade the lead until Cooper made consecutive three-pointers that gave him 16 points for the half and his team a seven-point lead that was cut to 42-37 at the half. Fellow senior Ivo Baltic, who has been playing better coming off the bench in recent games, joined Cooper in double figures, scoring 10 first-half points.
After Buffalo's Will Regan drained a three-pointer to tie the game at 42 in the initial stages of the second half, the Bobcats built a 59-51 lead with 9:12 remaining in the game. However, a UB 18-4 run gave the lead back to the home team, as the Bulls led 69-63 with 3:52 left. With his team down 69-67, Cooper sank a big three-pointer to give the 'Cats a one-point lead at the 1:34 mark.
With 30 seconds remaining, the Bulls called a timeout to set up a final possession. Buffalo's Jarryn Skeete drove for a layup but was denied by a Keely block that sent the ball out of bounds. With one last shot, Tony Watson attempted a three-pointer with two seconds left that missed and rolled out of bounds, giving the Bobcats the ball and the eventual victory.
Although it may sound repetitive, the 'Cats were once again demolished on the glass. At halftime, the Bulls held an 18-10 rebounding advantage, and no Ohio player had more than one rebound to his credit. This deficit only worsened in the second half, ending in a final margin of 43-22. But, as usual, the Bobcats, who rank first in the MAC in turnover margin, forced a high number of turnovers to offset their poor rebounding performance. The Bulls entered Tuesday ranked last in the MAC in turnover margin, and in line with this ranking, Ohio forced 19 Buffalo turnovers, including 11 steals, that led to 27 Ohio points.
The Bobcats (22-8, 13-2 MAC) return home for their final game of the regular season on Saturday against rival Miami (8-20, 3-12 MAC). Tip-off is scheduled for 4 p.m., and the game will be televised on SportsTime Ohio (STO).
The Bobcats closed the game on a 9-0 run over the final 3:52 to get the win over Buffalo. The 'Cats have now won the last six matchups and hold a 27-8 all-time advantage over the Bulls.
• Leading contributors for Ohio: D.J. Cooper (24 points, five assists, 5-of-10 on threes), Ivo Baltic (12 points) and Reggie Keely (nine points, six rebounds).
• Buffalo's top players: Will Regan (20 points, eight rebounds) and Javon McCrea (19 points, five rebounds, five assists).
• Prior to this season, the Ohio men have never won seven MAC road games during a 16-game league schedule. The win over Buffalo gave them this distinction.
• With their 11 assists against Buffalo, Ohio broke the record for assists in a season with 548.