Sometimes winning isn't pretty, and for the Ohio Bobcats (2-1) that statement has never been truer than during their 76-72 win over Valparaiso at home Sunday. After taking a 12-point lead into halftime, Ohio played a miserable second half, going the final 7:11 of regulation without making a field goal. But, in the end it was still able to grind out the victory and hold off a huge surge from the visiting Crusaders.
After trailing for 36 minutes, Crusaders' forward Alec Peters swiped the ball from a careless Stevie Taylor and laid it in to cap off a 24-9 run. The shot gave Valparaiso a 70-69 lead with 2:49 left in the game. Ohio was officially in panic mode. Jim Christian called a timeout and ripped into his team on the bench.
After the break T.J. Hall was called for a reach-in foul, Ohio's 22nd personal foul on the day, and Jordan Coleman sank both shots. Then Ricardo Johnson stepped in. After Maurice Ndour brought the game to within one on a free throw, the Ohio guard, known for being a grinder, fought for a rebound after a missed Valpo' layup and was fouled on the play. He sank both free throws putting Ohio up by 1, and after some clutch free throws from fellow teammate Nick Kellogg and a chest-thumping block by Ndour, Johnson sealed the win by putting Ohio up 76-72 on a free throw with 2 seconds on the clock.
Johnson finished the game with 11 points, going 7-for-13 from the free throw line, to go along with his six rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block and 1 steal.
Ohio dominated the first half, entering halftime with a 12-point lead, but the team fell into a horrible rut after the break. Under increased man pressure from Valpo the 'Cats couldn't get anything to fall. Even Ohio's free throws weren't dropping as the team made under 42 percent of its shots from the charity stripe in the second half. Coupled with a dominating performance from Peters, who finished with a game high 14 rebounds to go along with his 16 points, meant Ohio found itself the victim of a dominant Valparaiso second half.
Despite the sloppy shooting and ugly second half, Ohio managed to hold on and win thanks to gritty performances across the board. Like early in the second half when Valpo trailed by just 4. Kellogg drained back-to-back threes and went coast to coast for a layup to shoot the 'Cats lead back up to 9.
He finished the game with 16 points 4 rebounds and 3 assists as one of for Ohio players to score in double digits.
Besides Johnson and Kellog's game-changing moments, Ndour had another jaw-dropping performance for Ohio. He scored the team's first 9 points of the day, and went on to put up a game-high 23, along with six rebounds, four steals and five blocks. Together he and Smith combined for nine blocked shots on the day. His huge game gives the man they call Nature Boy 53 points, eight blocks and 20 rebounds in his first three games for Ohio. He continues to woe fans with his natural ability and willingness to challenge inside.
Hall was the other player to score in double digits, finishing with 11 points.
Ohio showed it has some serious flaws, mostly that when pressured just right it gets flustered and tends to rush and force shots. But, this 'Cats team can play defense, and managed to force 19 turnovers on the day, leading to a bulk of their offense.
If the unit can build some chemistry and learn to trust each other a bit more so as to remain calmer in tense moments, Ohio should be in good shape.
The 'Cats return to action Wednesday on the road as they take on a struggling Morgan State (0-3) team. The game is set to tip off at 7:30 p.m.