If a falcon and a bobcat were to fight, there wouldn’t be anything pretty about it, and toughness would determine the victor. That also was true Wednesday night at The Convo, as Ohio gutted out a critical win against visiting Bowling Green.
The Bobcats used spirited play to overcome their first-half mistakes and to capture a 72-59 win against the Falcons, avenging an earlier loss in the process. Tough play from reserve forward TyQuane Goard and a sound shooting performance from point guard D.J. Cooper propelled Ohio to its elusive 20th win of the season.
The win broke a two-game skid and protected the Bobcats’ perfect home record in conference play.
“That’s what good teams do,” coach John Groce said. “I’m excited for these guys. We had a rough week last week, and they responded exactly like I thought they would.”
Ohio (20-6, 8-4 Mid-American Conference) stayed a step ahead of Bowling Green (13-12, 7-5 MAC) for most of the game, but senior forward Scott Thomas kept the Falcons flying with 12 first-half points, which came on long jump shots, tip-ins and drives to the basket.
“Scott came out (to play),” Bowling Green coach Louis Orr said. “He set the tone as far as how you come out for a big game. He scored every way you could, and he competed.”
But the Bobcats shut down the Falcons’ overall productivity with tight man-to-man defense. Ohio’s forwards held Bowling Green big men A’uston Calhoun and Cameron Black to a combined two points in the opening frame. Speedy point guard Jordon Crawford committed no turnovers in the first half but was held to one assist.
The Bobcats could not pull away offensively, though, as turnovers plagued the usually possession-savvy squad. Ohio gave up the ball 15 times in the game, including nine first-half turnovers.
Regular starter Ivo Baltic entered the game on the bench for the second straight contest as he continues to bounce back from a knee injury. He played only eight minutes in the first half, partially because he quickly picked up two fouls.
That gave floor space to Goard, who immediately contributed several high-energy plays. He slammed home an electrifying and-one alley-oop on an inbound play to put the momentum in Ohio’s favor.
“It was a big play,” Goard said. “Coach is always talking about when he calls your name, be ready. It was a great pass from Stevie (Taylor). It was a great play.”
Goard soon drew another foul and snagged a loose ball to gain an extra possession for the Bobcats.
Bowling Green regained a brief lead in the second half behind four straight free throws, including two that resulted from a technical foul called against Groce for arguing a call. But D.J. Cooper poured in 13 of his game-high 22 points in the final six minutes of the game.
Desperate for a spark after back-to-back losses, Groce twice subbed out all five starters and inserted fresh reserves. The backup Bobcats provided 23 points off the bench.
“These guys were the biggest difference in the game,” Groce said. “We’ve been demanding here the last couple games we played with effort and energy, and these guys today got the job done at a high level.”
With the victory, Ohio broke a fourth-place tie with Bowling Green, which fell to fifth in the MAC East. The Bobcats are only one game behind Kent State and Buffalo, which are tied for second in the division.
Ohio will take a break from conference action to host UNC-Asheville in the ESPNU BracketBusters Challenge on Saturday.
OHIO 72, Bowling Green 59
— Ohio picked up its 20th win of the season.
— Cooper: Game-high 22 points, five rebounds, three assists
— The Bobcats collected 17 offensive rebounds.