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Men's Basketball: Ohio defense grounds Ball State

For the second time in as many games, the Bobcats used an early surge to build a lead that proved to be just enough in the end.

Ohio pulled away from Ball State thanks to a 16-0 run midway through the first half, but the Cardinals replied with a strong defensive effort in the second. The Bobcats escaped with a 59-55 victory in a Saturday morning matinee.

Ohio (17-4, 5-2 Mid-American Conference) finished its four-game MAC homestand with a perfect 4-0 record, though the Bobcats were unable to pull away in any of the last three.

Now, Ohio will face its first road test in more than two weeks when it travels to play Northern Illinois on Wednesday. The Huskies have struggled mightily this year and recently released top scorer Tim Toler from the team.

“We’ve got some things we need to work on,” coach John Groce said. “We want to be that team that keeps getting better in February. You either go up or down.”

The Bobcats fell into an early 7-2 hole against the Cardinals (12-7, 4-3 MAC) before rattling off 16 straight points to build a double-digit lead. The edge held for most of the first half, and Ohio entered the locker room with a 34-27 advantage.

“We knew they were going to give us a nice punch there,” Ball State senior guard Randy Davis said. “We can’t let them get a 16-0 run if we’re trying to win the ball game.”

Ball State chipped away at the deficit before tying the contest at 48 with just more than six minutes to play. The Cardinals briefly held a one-point lead before the Bobcats regained control for good.

Junior guard Walter Offutt provided key plays for the Bobcats down the stretch. He collected an offensive rebound and a put-back layup to give Ohio its final lead, and he added an insurance bucket on a nice baseline drive with a minute to play. 

Once again, Ohio found a way to win a game with its defense in spite of mediocre shooting. The team shot 40 percent from the field in the game, but only connected on seven of 21 attempts in the second half. The Bobcats finished 5-for-17 on 3-pointers.

“At the end of the day, we won the game because we played good defense,” Groce said.

Ball State entered the contest with the best assist-to-turnover ratio in the MAC. But Ohio forced 22 Cardinal miscues, while the visitors registered only eight assists.

“I thought our defense was tough,” Cardinals coach Billy Taylor said. “Our inability to take care of the basketball … ended up coming back to hurt us in the end.”

Ball State senior forward Jarrod Jones and sophomore forward Chris Bond finished with double-doubles. Bond has a game-high 14 points to go along with 12 rebounds, and Jones posted 11 points and a game-high 15 rebounds.

Offutt led all Ohio players with 13 points and six rebounds.

The Cardinals had as many offensive rebounds (18) as the Bobcats had defensive rebounds. Groce said rebounding is one aspect his team will work on heading into its road matchup with Northern Illinois.

“You can’t give your opponent regularly 50 percent back on the glass,” he said.

Ohio will play six of its last nine conference games on the road. The Bobcats are 0-2 away from The Convo in MAC play but are 5-4 on the road overall. Their last win as the visiting team was Dec. 20 at Northern Iowa.

“Right now we’re focused on getting better and on our next opponent,” Groce said.

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