CLEVELAND - Ohio used a first-half three-point barrage and put five players in double figures as it held off Buffalo on Friday evening, 77-74. The Bobcats set the school record with its 26th win of the season and advanced to the MAC Championship game for the second time in three years.
D.J. Cooper finished with a team-high 18 points and nine assists to lead the Bobcats. Reggie Keely had 14 points and a team-high seven rebounds while T.J. Hall had 13 and 6 as both players came off the bench. Walter Offutt had 10 points and three assists and Ivo Baltic reached double figures, grabbed four rebounds and dished out three assists.
Buffalo received 32 points from Mid-American Conference Player of the Year Mitchell Watt, 21 in the second half. The senior also had 11 rebounds as Javon McCrea was the only other Bull in double figures with 12 and seven rebounds.
Ohio finished the game shooting 45 percent from the field and 48 percent (12-25) from distance. While the Bobcats dominated the boards in the first two contests, the Bulls had 18 offensive rebounds this time. Ohio made up for the disparity on the glass by committing only seven turnovers to 13 for Buffalo.
UB used an early 6-0 run to go ahead 8-3 after a dunk by Jarod Oldham. However, Ohio responded with a 12-0 run getting two 3-pointers from Cooper and two buckets in the paint by Jon Smith.
A 9-2 run by the Bulls brought the two teams even at 21 with 8:27 remaining in the half, but the Green & White would put together another run of its own. Cooper hit three 3-pointers in a row to spearhead a 12-2 run that pushed the `Cats in front 33-23 with less than five minutes on the clock.
A Watt dunk cut the gap to 39-35 with 1:26 showing but the UB big man was whistled for a technical foul on the play. It ignited a 7-0 run by Ohio to close the half which culminated in a Hall 3-pointer.
The Bobcats knocked down 10 of 19 3-point tries in the first half to build a 46-35 halftime lead. Cooper had five of the triples while Kellogg and Hall each scored eight points and Offutt chipped in with seven. Hall led Ohio with five boards and the 'Cats shot 50 percent from the field over the first 20 minutes.
A Keely dunk two minutes into the second half gave the Bobcats their biggest lead, 55-40, but the Bulls did not need long to get back in it, going on a 13-0 run to draw within two, 55-53, on a Watt jumper at the 15:02 mark. Watt scored seven points while Zach Filzen knocked down two 3-pointers.
The Bobcats used a 7-0 run to push their advantage back to nine at the 12:33 mark, but the Bulls grabbed the momentum getting, getting within a point with 8:42 to go. Cooper ended that run with his only basket of the second half, completing a key three-point play at the basket with less than seven minutes left.
Later, Buffalo's Dave Barnett connected from deep to get his team within a point again with 5:21 remaining, but Keely hit two free throws and Baltic made consecutive jumpers to make it a seven-point game.
Watt hit a shot at the 2:28 mark to get the Bulls within five, but Cooper came up with a steal on the next defensive possession, allowing the Bobcats to milk the clock.
Oldham kept Buffalo's hopes alive with a running bank shot with 37 seconds to go to make it a one-possession game. Keely, Hall and Smith all missed free throws that would have put the game out of reach and Watt, Filzen and Oldham all missed 3-point tries that would have tied the score for UB.
Ohio advances to the MAC Championship against Akron in a rematch of the title game from two years ago. The top-seeded and defending champion Zips beat Kent State for a third time this season to reach their sixth straight title game.
Tipoff is schedule for 8 p.m. for the game that will be broadcast on ESPN2.