The Bobcats aren’t earning many brownie points with their wins, but picking up four straight victories at home still feels sweet.
Ohio fended off a second-half surge by Ball State to pick up a narrow 59-55 win at The Convo Saturday. The Bobcats (17-4, 5-2 Mid-American Conference) remain in a tie for second place in the MAC East as the midpoint of the conference schedule draws near.
Unlike past teams, Ohio has been able to compete in low-scoring affairs dictated by defense and ball control rather than prolific scoring. The Bobcats have only scored 70 points once in eight January games.
“Another game where I just don’t think in the past in previous years we would have been able to pull that one out with the way we shot the ball today,” coach John Groce said. “These guys found a way again, and that’s through defense.”
The Bobcats took control in the first half thanks to a 16-0 run that began four minutes into the game. Ohio built its lead with a variety of shots, including a dunk, three layups, a pair of 3-pointers and a jump shot from forward Reggie Keely.
Other than its diverse shot selection, Ohio kept Ball State (12-7, 4-3 MAC) on its heels with unusual matchups. Sophomore center Ethan Jacobs made a rare appearance in the first half as Groce tried to force the Cardinals to change their personnel. Groce said Jacobs earned his playing time in practice while other players had not been on the right page mentally.
“We saw a matchup we liked,” Groce said. “There were a couple guys I didn’t think were in the right state of mind.”
Jacobs missed his only shot and picked up two fouls in three minutes on the floor.
The Cardinals found success on the boards, as they picked up as many offensive rebounds as Ohio had defensive rebounds. That translated to 14 second-chance points. Two Ball State players finished with at least 12 rebounds, but no Ohio player had more than six.
“We’ve got some things we need to work on,” Groce said. “We want to be that team that keeps getting better in February. You either go up or down.”
After trailing by seven points at the half, Ball State rallied to take a one-point lead with three minutes to play. But a pair of what Groce calls “toughness plays” from junior guard Walter Offutt put the Bobcats back on top for good. Offutt grabbed an offensive rebound on a missed shot by D.J. Cooper and made the put-back shot as he was fouled.
He padded Ohio’s lead with a baseline drive for a bucket with just more than a minute left in the game. Offutt had missed several similar shots earlier in the game but did not hesitate to make his move.
“Those are shots I know I can hit, but when I miss one, I think I do a good job getting to the next play,” said Offutt, who finished with a team-high 13 points and six rebounds.
After four straight wins at home, the Bobcats will travel to DeKalb, Ill., for a game against the struggling Northern Illinois Huskies Wednesday. Ohio will play six of its final nine conference games on the road.