On a day that celebrated an historic 2011-2012 season, the Ohio Bobcats turned the page and ushered in a new era of Bobcat basketball with an 81-52 trouncing of the Portland Pilots.
D.J. Cooper and Nick Kellogg led the Bobcats with 18 points apiece while Reggie Keely chipped in 13 points off the bench to give new head coach Jim Christian his first victory at Ohio.
Christian, who came into the season with the highest-winning percentage in MAC league history after compiling a 138-58 record at Kent State from 2002-2008, earned his first victory, thanks in large part to a mammoth 21-4 run to start the second half, which allowed the Bobcats to break open a game that was tied at the break.
“I was proud of the second half. We started playing the game the way we had been playing it. Guarded the way we are capable of guarding and took control of the pace of the game."
Like they did so many times last year, Ohio turned up the defensive pressure in the second half. They forced 11 turnovers while holding the Pilots to 19 points and an anemic 27.7 percent shooting from the field.
The defense led to a flurry of fast-break points and open perimeter shots. As a result, the Bobcats to shot 61.5 percent in the second half.
Before the game, the Bobcats unveiled their Sweet 16 banner, bringing the crowd to its feet in recognition of last year's school record 29 wins and run through the NCAA Tournament.
But the pregame festivities may have played a role in Ohio’s slow start.
Portland jumped out to a 12-6 lead behind two fast break layups and missed opportunities from the Bobcats on the offensive end. Christian called timeout and lit a fire under his team.
“Our team probably got caught up in the emotion of it in the first half," Christian acknowledged. "But like I said last week, I’m always interested in the response.”
Christian sure loved his team’s response to the early deficit.
Ohio, like it has in the past few seasons, used the three-ball to shoot their way back into the game. Kellogg knocked down consecutive threes and Snow College transfer Travis Wilkins added another from the corner to spark a 13-4 run to give Ohio a 19-16 lead.
Despite dreadful shooting from inside the arc, Ohio closed the half with five straight points from Cooper to knot the score at 33 at halftime. They shot 50 percent from long range but just 35 percent on two-point attempts. But the defense kept Ohio in the game, forcing 13 first-half turnovers leading to 18 points off Pilot miscues.
“The most important thing for our team is that they don’t see panic,” said Christian of the first half woes. “You have to believe and have confidence in them. I was more disappointed in the fundamentals on defense.”
“It’s only normal to get caught up in the emotion and feed off the hype,” said Kellogg on the first half struggles. “I think we did a better job in the second half of settling down and getting back to our game.”
Preseason All-MAC first team selection Walter Offutt picked up two early fouls, forcing Christian to sit him for the final twelve minutes of the half. Offutt's absence may have contributed to the slow start.
But with Offutt on the court to begin the second half, Ohio opened with a 21-4 run. Kellogg completed a four-point play, then added his fourth three-pointer of the game to open up a 17-point lead with 13:44 to play.
“In the second half, these guys imposed their will and that’s what I’m proud of,” said Christian. “There’s a lot we’ll learn from this but at the end of the day, the only thing you want to do after one game is be 1-0.”
Ohio will try to improve to 2-0 when it hosts UNC-Wilmington next Friday at 7:00 p.m.
Marlowe Alter is a Contributor for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.