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Ohio forward Ivo Baltic soars over Toledo defenders during the first round of the MAC Tournament yesterday night in The Convo. The Bobcats advanced to the second round after a 74-57 win against the Rockets. Ohio will play Ball State Thursday night in Cleveland. (Maddie Meyer | STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)

Men's Basketball: Ohio rockets past Toledo

The mismatch between Toledo and Ohio was personified by the matchup between D.J. Cooper and Zack Leahy. The former is a conference player of the year candidate; the latter, a walk-on for a four-win team.

As Ohio jumped out to a 17-1 lead, that advantage showed to not only the Convo crowd but also the Bobcats themselves. It caused Ohio to let up, allowing Toledo to bring the score within nine. After the scare, the Bobcats finally pulled away in the 74-57 win at The Convo last night in the first round of the Mid-American Conference Tournament.

“Second half, obviously I’m not a huge fan that they shot 52 percent from the field,” coach John Groce said. “I didn’t think our defense had the same bite in the second half as it did in the first half.”

Starting the half up 41-22, Ohio coasted as the game slowly started to resemble a scrimmage. But back-to-back 3-pointers by Justin Anyijong and Leahy brought Toledo within 12. Jay Shunnar’s layup and free throw brought the score to 56-47.

However, Ohio used its height advantage to stay on top against Toledo. Forward Ivo Baltic constantly blew past the slower Rocket defenders en route to 12 second-half points.

“I was just taking what they gave me,” Baltic said about his 24-point game.

“…It’s just me staying aggressive.”

Besides the quick run by Toledo to bring the score within nine, Ohio dominated the majority of the game.

The Bobcats didn’t allow a field goal until 11:17 in the first half as they jumped out to a 16-1 lead. The swarming defense forced 11 first half turnovers out of the overmatched Rockets.

“I thought the first 15 minutes of the game was some of the best defense we played all year,” Groce said. “I thought it was great. A lot of people have been asking if we’d be ready to play, and yeah, I think we were ready to play.”

Baltic scored the first six points. Tommy Freeman added to the offense with two open 3-pointers to make the score 23-4.

The next two plays, Ohio enforced its superiority over Toledo. Forward DeVaughn Washngton picked up a mishandled dribble from Toledo’s Malcolm Griffin and proceeded for the fastbreak slam on the other end.

Following that, Freeman stole the ball from Griffin and tossed the ball to a streaking Nick Kellogg. Pausing as he neared the basket, Kellogg threw an alley-oop pass to Washington, who thundered the ball through to make it 27-4.   

Ohio’s lead peaked after Washington faked left and made an open jump shot to make the score 31-6 Bobcats.

“Look at the difference between us,” Toledo coach Tod Kowalczyk said. “We have five scholarship guys and four walk-ons. They had a lot of ball pressure, and that was the difference.”

The end of the first half and most of the second half almost had a scrimmage feel as Ohio cruised toward its second round matchup with Ball State, which will be played at 9:30 Thursday night at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.

“The bottom line is that we wanted to play well enough to give ourselves a chance to play in Cleveland and get the chance to do that,” Groce said. “We were able to accomplish that.”


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