They say basketball is a game of runs, and on Tuesday evening, Ohio went on the game’s biggest. The Bobcats used a 20-2 burst over the final 6:35 of the first half and held off a feisty Hampton squad down the stretch for a 75-67 victory.
Senior guard Walter Offutt had by far his best game of the season, leading the way with 23 points and three steals, while Ivo Baltic added 16 points and three blocks as the Bobcats improved to 4-0.
But for the first time on the young season, the Bobcats were challenged.
Ohio was out-rebounded 43-26 and gave up 20 offensive boards to the Pirates, who dropped to 0-3 with the loss.
“I think we just got punked,” said Baltic on the alarming rebounding disparity. “I don’t think we were boxing out we were just going in there expecting to get the rebound.”
Ohio head coach Jim Christian said:
To me the season started tonight. We got tested. I give Hampton a lot of credit I thought they out-toughed us tonight on the glass, it wasn’t even close. We weren’t physical enough but at the same time we executed enough on the offensive end to win the game when we had to, so I give our team a lot of credit for that.
Christian can thank his seniors for this win. Along with Offutt and Baltic’s strong performances, star point guard D.J. Cooper chipped in 12 points, seven assists and three steals while Reggie Keely continued his strong play with eight points and six rebounds off the bench.
Offutt, who was averaging just 6.3 points while struggling with foul trouble in the first three games, scored 15 of his 23 in the first half, including 11 during the decisive 20-2 run. He was 13-15 from the foul line for the game, repeatedly attacking the rim like his usual self.
“It was just one of them games where they were pressing up on us a lot and I was able to get to the hole quite a bit to help my team,” said Offutt, who received a standing ovation from the Bobcat faithful when he headed to the bench for a few minutes of rest at the end of the half.
But Offutt’s dominance wasn’t limited to the offensive end. He drew several charges and continually sacrificed his body diving for loose balls. Offutt's effort helped the Bobcats force 24 turnovers.
The first half was back and forth for the first 14 minutes. Ohio established an early 17-12 lead thanks to its outside shooting prowess, but the Pirates responded with a 7-0 run of their own. Hampton played solid one-on-one defense and cut off penetration from the Ohio guards to stay in the game.
After trading baskets, the Bobcats finally found their groove late in the half. Cooper made a signature no-look pass to Keely for a layup, and Offutt added a three-point play during a 15-0 spurt as the Bobcats suddenly took a 39-25 lead.
The Bobcats continued to push the pace, running the fast break to perfection for a Baltic layup before the senior forward beat the buzzer with his second-corner three-pointer of the half. The 20-2 run opened up a 44-27 for Ohio heading to the break. The Bobcats turned 14 Pirates' turnovers into 21 first half points, however, Ohio was unable to sustain the momentum.
The Bobcats came out slow in the second half, turning the ball over four times in the first four-plus minutes as the Pirates climbed to within nine. Baltic and Keely then lost their cool, picking up technical fouls 35 seconds apart and allowing the Pirates to score six quick points. The fans showed their displeasure with the calls, booing the refs mercilessly for the rest of the game.
Hampton’s speed outside and strength inside allowed them to stay close the entire second half and climb to within 69-61 with 2:39 to play.
Baltic responded with a quick right-handed hook shot to give Ohio a 10-point lead and sealed the deal with a steal a minute later.
“We’re happy that we won but we’re disappointed with the way we played, especially on defense,” said Baltic.
The Bobcats will look to stay undefeated when they host Richmond (4-1) at the Convocation Center Saturday afternoon. The Spiders are coming off a six-point win over Wofford, who the Bobcats beat by 23 on Sunday.
Marlowe Alter is a Contributor for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.