Ohio visited Northern Iowa hoping to escape with a win. By the end of the game, the home team just wanted to escape with some dignity.
The Bobcats (10-1) continued their historic run to open the season with a 76-59 road win against the Panthers. Northern Iowa (9-2) had the second-best ratings percentage index in the country coming into the game. RPI ranks teams based on wins, losses and strength of schedule.
The win might propel Ohio into the national spotlight. The Bobcats were already receiving votes in national polls, and an impressive road win against a tough Missouri Valley Conference opponent could boost the squad toward the top 25.
Ohio notched its seventh-straight victory in impressive fashion, leading from the opening basket until the final buzzer. The Bobcats boasted a double-digit lead for the final 30 minutes, stayed out of foul trouble and limited their turnovers en route to one of their more impressive non-conference victories in recent history. The team is off to its best start since the 1940-1941 season.
“I thought tonight we executed very well,” coach John Groce said. “You have to work hard to get good shots against them. They don’t give you anything. We were able to get in a rhythm a little bit.”
Junior forward Ivo Baltic boosted the Bobcats early and helped maintain the lead down the stretch. Baltic’s 22-point performance included two baskets from 3-point territory. He finished the game 10-for-14 from the field in 34 minutes on the floor.
Ohio limited Northern Iowa’s opportunities by playing disciplined basketball. The team committed only 16 personal fouls and turned the ball over 10 times. Both totals were in Groce’s target range.
“I thought the discipline was great,” he said. “I thought it was a big factor coming into the game.
The Bobcats got on the board with a free throw from starting forward Jon Smith. Ironically, it was Smith’s only point of the night. But Ohio had little trouble building or sustaining its lead.
Baltic scored 17 points in the first half, including both of his statement 3-pointers. His proficiency from long range sparked Ohio, which finished 11-for-21 from beyond the arc.
The Bobcats shot 52 percent from the floor against the Panthers.
“I think a lot of credit goes to our guys,” Groce said. “They understood (Baltic) was on, and they did a good job finding him.”
Baltic’s supporting cast included D.J. Cooper, Nick Kellogg and T.J. Hall, who all finished in double figures. Ohio held a slight edge in rebounds, though no player grabbed more than five boards. Seven Bobcats had at least four rebounds.
Ohio will take on North Carolina A&T Friday in the team’s final game before Christmas.
“One thing we do is every single win we get, I tell these guys to enjoy it, appreciate it, and relish it for that moment,” Groce said. “Life’s too short. They’ve only got one college career.
“I think fun is competing. Fun is being tough. I do want them to enjoy this experience and embrace this journey.”