It was the same things that plagued Ohio in previous road losses to Robert Morris, Memphis and Massachusetts. A bad stretch on offense coupled with a perimeter player from the other team catching fire. It’s a lethal combination that has led to monster runs by the opposition and has left Ohio in the dust.
This time in Norman, Okla., the opposing player who caught fire was Steve Pledger. The Sooner guard scored 14 of his game-high 18 points in the second half to help Oklahoma turn a close game into a comfortable 74-63 victory.
The Sooners went on runs of 12-3 and 15-2 in the second half, the latter one after Ohio had climbed to within four, to run away from the Bobcats. The loss dropped Ohio’s record to a disappointing 8-5 and 0-4 on the road.
“Too many live-ball turnovers. It’s the same stuff that’s been happening, we’ve just got to clean it up and get better,” said Ohio head coach Jim Christian.
Ohio was led by star point guard D.J. Cooper, who entered Saturday tied for fourth in the nation with 7.9 assists per game. Cooper scored 14 points and dished out seven dimes while Reggie Keely had 13 points and eight rebounds in his second-straight start. Walter Offutt hit three treys and finished with 11 points.
The Bobcats once again struggled to protect the ball, committing 18 turnovers, which led to 22 points for the Sooners. Ivo Baltic had six giveaways and Cooper had five, while Offutt and Ricardo Johnson each committed three.
Ohio started hot, hitting three of their first five shots from long range, including two from Cooper to take an early 17-12 lead. But just as they did in their three earlier road losses, Ohio hit a cold spell, missing seven-straight three-point attempts as the Sooners went on a 13-4 run to go in front 25-21.
Ohio was able to finish the half with a mini 8-4 run of their own, capped by a Baltic three to knot the game at 29 heading into the break.
The Bobcats held the Sooners to just 30 percent from the field in the first half, but committed 11 turnovers to keep Oklahoma in the game.
The Sooners opened the second half with a 12-3 burst to take a 41-32 lead before Pledger caught fire. The senior guard knocked down four-straight jumpers for nine points to keep Ohio at bay and extend the Sooners' largest lead of the game to 54-43.
Offutt kept the Bobcats close with two threes and a layup, and a dunk from Jon Smith brought Ohio to within four at 56-52 with seven minutes to play.
But Oklahoma responded with yet another colossal run, this one sparked by two dunks from Cameron Clark, as the Sooners went on a 15-2 run to grab a 17-point lead with three minutes left, sealing Ohio’s fate.
“You can’t turn the ball over the amount of times we’ve turned the ball over. You can’t not guard in key possessions. You can’t allow teams to get on those types of runs,” said a frustrated Christian. “For whatever reason we’re a lot more stagnant on the road, guys aren’t playing with as much confidence as they are at home. They almost rely on D.J. a little too much.”
The Bobcats shot 47.2 percent (25-of-53) from the field but just 30.8 percent (8-of-26) from beyond the arc. Sharpshooter Nick Kellogg injured two fingers on his shooting hand vs. Massachusetts and has not made a field goal since.
Kellogg followed up his 0-6 shooting performance against Maryland-Eastern Shore with another 0-6 effort in this game, all from downtown. He was hitting 46 percent from long range (23-50) before going 0-11 over these last two games to drop to 37.7 percent for the season.
"For stretches we play really well and for stretches we lost it on the break—just simple basketball plays that we're not making," Christian said. "We're not valuing possessions," he added, while also mentioning a lack of practice time over Christmas break and conditioning issues as playing a part in the loss.
Ohio also failed to get to the free-throw line consistently while sending Oklahoma there all too often, which has become a dangerous trend of late. The Bobcats were just 5-7 from the charity stripe while the Sooners connected on 17-23.
"It's hard. When you have success, I think sometimes you kind of take your eye off what you did and we're not playing very soundly, especially on the defensive end of the floor," Christian said. "I think that's hard for me because I don't have a history with these guys to go back to certain points. So, I've got to depend a lot on their leadership and their experiences. We've just got to keep working our way through it. We've just got to find a way."
With conference play 11 days away, Ohio must clean up its mistakes in a hurry. It will welcome Marshall (7-6) to the Convocation Center on Saturday to end a difficult non-conference schedule, before hosting Buffalo on January 9.
Notes: Oklahoma came into the game having won 36 of its last 37 and 94 of its last 97 non-conference home games….Baltic made a free throw for the first time since Feb. 22, 2012, a span of 22 games.
Marlowe Alter is a Contributor for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
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