Knocked to the mat

Cooper, Bobcats strike again, down young Bulls to begin conference play

The Spectrum

The men's basketball team started Mid-American Conference play in 2013 with the same team that dashed its hopes for a conference championship.

The result hasn't changed. Turnovers played a key role early, and guard D.J. Cooper took full advantage, as his fast-paced Ohio (10-5, 1-0 MAC) squad had no trouble pulling away in this contest. They never trailed as they beat the Bulls (5-10, 0-1 MAC) 86-68 on the road at the Convocation Center in Athens, Ohio on Wednesday night.

The pace of the game was a big factor in the loss. The smaller, quicker Bobcats were able to run up-and-down on Buffalo, resulting in 23 fast-break points.

"The tempo of the game was a huge concern of ours," said head coach Reggie Witherspoon. "We were not prepared. Typically, our big guys are not trained to change ends of the floor, and when that happens they are going to get fatigued. Fouls and miscues happen, and you're going to make mental mistakes."

Another main issue for the Bulls all year has been the turnover bug, and it bit them again early, as they committed five in the first six minutes of play. The Bobcats took full advantage, as they scored 21 points off 17 Buffalo turnovers.

Despite the turnovers, the game was close early, as the Bulls trailed by just a single point, 20-19 with around eight and a half minutes to go in the first half, thanks to a couple of aggressive buckets by junior guard Javon McCrea, who finished with 13 points, six rebounds and four blocks to help keep the game close.

Then Cooper took control.

The last time these two teams got together it was a wild affair in which the Bulls were victimized by his three-point shooting and a deft passing touch that pushed Ohio past Buffalo in the semifinals of the MAC tournament last season. The do-it-all senior did it again Wednesday night, as he led a 14-2 run which pulled the Bulls into perilous territory in the blink of an eye. Cooper finished the game with 21 points, seven assists, three rebounds and a steal. He also had another sterling performance from beyond-the-arc, as he sunk five of his six attempted threes.

"He hit some deep threes in transition," Witherspoon said. "That's just D.J. Cooper being D.J. Cooper. He's a great player."

At the end of the first half, the Bobcats were able to stretch its lead to 22 points with their 65 percent shooting from the field. Ohio's 53 first-half points is the most allowed by Buffalo all season.

Cooper had help in the low post. Forward Reggie Keely pounded the Bulls down low, as one of the MAC leaders in field goal percentage was effective again in the conference opener. Keely shot 6-for-10 and finished with a career-high 19 points, while adding five rebounds as Buffalo lost its fifth straight game to Ohio.

The Bulls, who shot 38 percent from the field, had three players who scored in double figures. Freshman guard Jarryn Skeete and sophomore forward Will Regan finished with 13 and 11, respectively, adding to McCrea's 13.

Another bright spot for the Bulls was sophomore forward Xavier Ford, who nearly had a double-double despite the 1-for-6 shooting night. He had eight points and nine rebounds, including seven offensive.

"Xavier is the one guy from the four post players that we dressed, who is built a little bit differently, has enough speed to change ends and keep up [with the Ohio players] a little bit," Witherspoon said.

The Bulls will return home to start the home portion of their conference schedule on Saturday night and take on Miami (5-8, 0-1 MAC) for the first of three straight games at Alumni Arena. Tipoff for this game is scheduled for 7 p.m.