Men's basketball | Ohio University 69, Kent State 68: Bobcats hang on for win

Cooper’s 23 points give coach satisfying return

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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Ed Suba Jr. | AKRON BEACON JOURNAL
Khaliq Spicer of Kent State blocks a shot by Gahanna native Stevie Taylor in Ohio University’s victory, as Kris Brewer watches.

KENT, Ohio — A wave of sentimentality went through Jim Christian during team introductions last night upon his return to Kent State, where he won 20 games in each of his six seasons as coach and reached two NCAA Tournaments.

Christian felt comfortable wearing Ohio University green but recalled the many good times seeing Golden Flashes coach Rob Senderoff and his staff standing in front of their bench.

“It was a lot tougher than I thought it would be,” Christian said. “There are a lot of memories here. I knew the atmosphere would be crazy. Then the game is on, and you think about what you have to do.”

And what a game it was. The score was tied 15 times, and there were 20 lead changes.

The Bobcats took the lead with 56 seconds left on two free throws by guard D.J. Cooper and held their breath as the Flashes’ Randal Holt missed a 10-foot runner in the lane with two seconds left to come away with a 69-68 victory before 5,453 in the Memorial Athletic and Convocation Center.

It was only the third time in 14 games that Ohio (15-5, 6-0) defeated Kent State (11-9, 2-4) in the loud 1950s-era barn of a gymnasium. The Bobcats are tied with Akron for the best record in the Mid-American Conference.

Cooper showed why he has been a starter for four years and a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award as the nation’s top point guard in totaling 23 points, five assists, three steals and one blocked shot.

“I was just trying to do whatever it takes,” Cooper said. “I’m trying to raise my level of intensity. I want the ball in my hands (when it counts). I feel I have to play well for us to be successful.”

It appeared the Bobcats finally would get separation after Nick Kellogg tracked down a missed pass by Kent State and drove the length of the floor for a layup to provide a 60-52 lead with 7:48 remaining. The Flashes, though, fed off the energy of a large crowd and scored 11 straight points to take a 63-60 lead with 4:44 left on a three-point play by forward Chris Evans.

A layup by Reggie Keely with 1:57 left off a slick pass by Cooper gave the Bobcats a 67-66 lead. Cooper put them ahead for good a minute later.

Kent State self-destructed in the final minute when Evans, who had been clutch with 20 points and seven assists, was whistled for traveling with 42.8 seconds left. A long jumper by Cooper was blocked with eight seconds left, and Holt raced the ball upcourt for the last shot. His runner in the lane bounced off the back of the rim.

“It was a high-percentage shot that I take a lot and make,” Holt said. “There were only about six seconds left and we couldn’t plan too much. We had to take the best shot available.”

Holt suggested that Cooper was the difference in the second half.

“They kept the ball in D.J. Cooper’s hands down the stretch, and he makes plays,” he said. “He’s not only a scoring threat, but he makes teammates better.”

Kent State had 20 turnovers, 13 coming in the second half.

Ohio had 28 baskets to Kent State’s 21 but was outrebounded 36-21. The Flashes had 14 offensive rebounds.

What almost cost the Bobcats a victory was Kent State hitting 20 of 26 free throws. Ohio made 8 of 10.

“That was a 40-minute college basketball game,” Christian said. “(Our players) didn’t panic. They played the right way. They got a stop when they needed it.”

mznidar@dispatch.com

@MarkZnidar

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