Nov. 9, 2007
Box Score | Quotes | Notes
ATHENS, Ohio - The Ohio men's basketball team made a loud statement in its opening game of the 2007-08 season with an 80-72 victory against New Mexico State, the defending Western Athletic Conference Tournament Champion, on Friday night at the Convocation Center.
Jerome Tillman (Beavercreek, Ohio) led all scorers with 20 points in addition to eight rebounds and two assists.
No rebound or point was more important than his last.
With Ohio gripping to a four-point lead with just under a minute left to play, Tillman pulled down a rebound between two Aggies before being fouled and made both free throws to put the game out of reach.
Three other Bobcats finished with double-digits in scoring. Transfers Justin Orr (Cincinnati, Ohio) and Bert Whittington IV (Hankamer, Texas) scored 17 and 13 points, respectively, and senior guard Bubba Walther (Cincinnati, Ohio) chipped in 13.
Whittington and Orr both had seven rebounds each, just one shy of Tillman's team-high eight boards.
New Mexico State forward Justin Hawkins paced the Aggies with 19 points and 11 rebounds, the only double-double in the game.
The only other Aggie in double-figures scoring was guard Jonathan Gibson, who had 16 points to go with two assists and four rebounds.
The early moments of the game were sloppy on both sides as the Bobcats and Aggies were whistled for six combined fouls in just the first four minutes, and by halfway through the period, the teams had committed seven turnovers apiece.
Despite the lack of crispness, NMSU came out hot on the offensive end. The Aggies made six of their first nine field goal attempts - three from behind the arc - and had a 12-5 lead five minutes into the game. The Bobcats defense then clamped down, and as a result, turned things around on offense as well. Ohio held the Aggies scoreless for four-and-a-half minutes and pulled even for the first time since 2-2 at 14-14 with 9:09 on the clock.
The two teams would trade a series of buckets before Walther sank a three from the right side to give Ohio its first lead since 2-0 at 25-22 with just under five minutes remaining in the period. Headed into the locker room, NMSU put together an 8-0 run to take a 32-27 lead with 1:46 left only to see the Bobcats answer with an 8-0 run of their own to enter the break up 35-32.
The Aggies' Hawkins led all scorers with 13 points while Tillman paced Ohio with nine. NMSU held a slight edge in shooting (41.4%-40.6) and was ahead on the glass (24-17).
Both teams came out of the half with the hot hand and were tied 40-40 at 17:38, but the Bobcats exploded for a 14-4 run during a quick 2:24 spurt and stormed to their biggest lead of the game at that point - 54-44 - at 14:40. Tillman and Whittington fueled the run with two treys apiece.
The Bobcats were not able to maintain the momentum, however, as NMSU stormed back. Following a called timeout when Ohio went ahead by 10, the Aggies went on a 22-11 extended run to regain the lead for the first time since the first half at 66-65 with 6:10 remaining.
The deciding sequence of the game came inside four minutes. Tied 70-70 with 3:52 remaining, the Bobcats got a deuce from Tillman and three free throws by Walther after he was fouled on an attempt behind the arc to take a 75-70 lead with 2:01 remaining.
Last year the Aggies defeated Ohio 77-72 in an ESPNU BracketBusters game on Feb. 17.
A total of 47 fouls were called in both teams' first game of the season with 26 whistles coming against the Aggies.
Along with the numerous fouls came a large number of turnovers, 34 in total. New Mexico State gave the ball away 18 times compared to 16 for Ohio.
The Bobcats won their season opener last season as well, an 83-66 romp of Marist with Tillman again leading the way with a team-high 16 points. Leon Williams (Baltimore, Md.) had 16 points in last year's season opener as well but was limited by foul trouble against NMSU, netting six points and five rebounds in just 17 minutes of playing time.
Ohio is now 2-1 all-time against the Aggies and 80-21 all-time in home openers. The Bobcats are 67-34 all-time in season-openers.
Up next for New Mexico State is a trip to Durham, N.C. for a showdown with Duke. Ohio's next game is against Cornell on Nov. 17 at the Convocation Center.
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Jason Cunningham is the primary media contact for Ohio men's basketball. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.