The Ohio faithful caught “Green Fever” before Sunday night’s game against Akron, and by the end of the contest, the Zips were sick of it.
The Bobcats gave the Zips fits in a 85-61 nationally televised win with major Mid-American Conference implications. Ohio (23-6, 10-4 MAC) moved a step closer to clinching a first-round bye and kept its hopes alive for a MAC East title while Akron (20-9, 12-2 MAC) saw its nine-game conference win streak come to a halt in Athens.
Ohio put 46 points on the board in the first half for the third time this season. That marked the most points Akron had allowed before the break all season, and the Bobcats’ 85 total points also marked a season-high for any Zips opponent.
“We got contributions from everybody. The hustle plays were a big difference in the game,” Ohio coach John Groce said. “I’m proud of our guys for the toughness that they played with and the togetherness that they played with.”
The Bobcats’ prowess featured spot-on shooting from the perimeter. Junior guard Walter Offutt opened the game with back-to-back 3-pointers, including a shot while double-teamed from well behind the arc as the shot clock expired.
From there, junior forward Ivo Baltic and sophomore guard Nick Kellogg took over. Baltic nailed all three of his jump shots from outside the paint, and Kellogg added two momentum-building 3-pointers en route to 10 first-half points.
The Bobcats made their offense even more dangerous with lockdown defense. Point guards D.J. Cooper and Stevie Taylor had four combined steals, and reserve forward T.J. Hall added another pair to account for half of Akron’s 12 first-half turnovers.
“It started with running. We’re really focusing on pushing the ball a lot more,” Kellogg said. “We’ve done a great job with D.J. and Stevie leading the break.
Ohio also corralled 7-footer Zeke Marshall, who managed only a bucket and five rebounds in the first half. Junior forward Reggie Keely and the rest of Ohio’s big men kept Marshall from catching the ball near the basket.
After the break, any thoughts of an Akron comeback soon disappeared. Ohio’s depth and speed in the transition game turned defensive rebounds and steals into fast-break layups.
“I think we let things bother us, and the snowball effect got us,” Akron coach Keith Dambrot said. “When they’re in the prosperous mode, they tend to snowball into more prosperity.”
Cooper used the transition game to amass 10 assists to go along with 11 points for his fourth double-double of the year, but his first since Dec. 10 at Portland.
Kellogg led all scorers with 17 points, followed by Offutt and Keely, who had 14 apiece.
Sophomore guard Brian Walsh led the Zips with 12 points, and senior forward Nikola Cvetinovic had 11. Marshall finished with only four points and six rebounds.
Ohio closes its home schedule with 16 wins, the most in a season in program history. The team also went a perfect 8-0 at home in conference play for the first time since 1985.
The Bobcats will play a home game in the first round of the MAC tournament only if they lose their final two games and Eastern Michigan wins out. One more win will give them a guaranteed two-round bye, and two more wins will secure a triple bye into the tournament semifinals.
Ohio still has an outside chance at a MAC East crown and the number-one overall seed in the tournament if it defeats Kent State and Miami later this week and if Akron drops its final two contests against Buffalo and Kent State.