Saturday evening in Athens the Ohio Bobcats senior class once again proved why they're the best class in program history. They battled back from a horrible first half and 12 point deficit midway through the second to win 58-54 and improve to 14-2 in Mid-American conference play. The win ties them with Akron for the MAC regular season title.
It wasn't easy, but they say nothing worth having is. Ohio (23-8) did everything in their power to lose Saturday night to a woeful Miami squad (8-21, 3-13) despite holding destiny in its own hands. Even though Akron beat the 'Cats twice in head-to-head play, the Zips lost two out of their last three games to give Ohio a shot at being co-MAC champions. But Ohio almost blew that opportunity Saturday evening.
The 'Cats have been known for their streaky play at times this season, and have struggled in big games on occasions. Ohio struggled right out of the gate. John Cooper's game plan slowed the pace down and forced Ohio out of its comfort zone. That led to some horrific offensive play by Ohio. The first half marked the worst stretch of offensive play this year for Ohio.
The 'Cats couldn't get anything going. A team known for forcing turnovers, coughed up the ball six times in the first eight minutes. They managed to hit just 18 percent of their shots in the first half. Will Felder's hot hand didn't help either. The Miami forward finished with a game high 20 points, 14 of those coming on 6-of-9 from the field in the first half. It added up to the worst first half performance for Ohio all year. The 'Cats trailed 28-22 at half.
Nothing seemed to change at the start of the second half either. Ohio continued to throw up bad shots and let Miami control the game. The 'Cats bench has been known for their production all year long but combined for just five total points in the first 27 minutes of play. Then Stevie Taylor changed everything.
Down 44-32 with just under 12 minutes left in the game, Taylor drained a three and forced a Miami shot-clock violation to spark a 15-to-0 run over the next five minutes. During the stretch, Taylor managed to snag three steals and drain a couple of crucial shots. It was the energy boost the rest of the team needed. By the end of it Ohio was up 47-44 and had the home crowd behind them with seven minutes to go.
Walter Offutt, Nick Kellogg and Jon Smith all seemed to come alive after that run and led by D.J. Cooper, Ohio managed to more than double their first half shooting percentage. They controlled down the stretch, coming up with key stops, including a big-time shot-block by Jon Smith in the final seconds to seal the four point victory for Ohio.
Cooper finished with 17 points and five rebounds and Taylor added another eight points and three steals to lead the Bobcats to their first MAC regular season title since the 1993-1994 season. With the win Ohio takes a share of the regular season title, with Akron, but remains the No. 2 seed in the tournament.
Pulling out a big come-from-behind victory in the final game of the regular season to win a share of the conference title is a great way for Ohio to enter the MAC tournament. Especially considering an Akron star's recent (legal) stumbles. After tonight, Ohio has to be the clear favorites to win the MAC tournament.