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Ohio forward Reggie Keely shoots over an Akron defender in The Convo last night. Ohio won 80-55. (Alex Goodlett | STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)

Men's Basketball: Ohio zips past Akron, retains halftime lead

In the locker room with a 22-point halftime lead, coach John Groce didn’t say anything different to the team than any other time they held a big lead.

“I wanted to get them out, get them warmed up so we could have a great start to the second half,” he said.

And unlike what they had done for much of the season with a big lead, the Bobcats adhered to Groce’s words.

Ohio (17-13, 9-6 Mid-American Conference) closed the first half with a 24-4 run to take control of the game and kept Akron (19-11, 9-6 MAC) down after the break en route to an 80-55 win in the regular-season home finale last night.

“We put together a complete game for the first time in a while at both ends of the floor,” Groce said.

The Bobcats had possession to start the second half with a 44-22 lead. As D.J. Cooper dribbled outside the 3-point line, DeVaughn Washington faked an inside move and spun around his defender toward the rim.

Cooper passed it to Washington for a crowd-energizing alley-oop dunk as the Bobcats did not allow Akron a chance to make an early second half run that many Ohio opponents have been able to do.

“I think it was big for us,” Washington said. “It might have brought their morale down a little bit. … I think we did a good job keeping our foot on the pedal in the second half and finishing the game off.”

The Bobcats have struggled to finish games all year. They needed overtime to beat Kent State Saturday after building a 21-point second half lead. Earlier in the year, Ohio lost to Buffalo despite an 18-point halftime advantage.

But it never came close to that last night. Ohio scored the first eight points of the second half and built a 30-point lead. Three consecutive 3-pointers by Cooper extended the lead back to 30 with 8:59 to play. After that, Akron was never within 25.

“They focused for 40 minutes, which they haven’t this year,” said Akron coach Keith Dambrot. “They played well.”

Cooper strengthened his MAC Player of the Year resume with a near triple-double. He had 25 points, nine assists and eight rebounds. He also made a career-high seven 3-pointers.

Coming into the game, Cooper was shooting only 30 percent from 3-point range. But with the defense playing back and daring him to shoot, he took advantage of the space and made some shots.

“I just got in a little rhythm,” a smiling Cooper said after the game. “… I wasn’t looking for (3-pointers). I just felt like that’s what they were giving me.”

Cooper also set Ohio’s single-season assist record, which he set last year as a freshman.

The Bobcats had at least 40 rebounds for the third consecutive game as they had a 40-21 advantage on the glass against the Zips.

“We’re doing a better job of pursuing the ball,” Washington said. “Boxing out’s not enough, so we’ve just been doing a way better job of pursuing it.”


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