USF-Ohio game another battle to control tempo
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Tonight's NCAA third-round game between 12th-seeded USF and 13th-seeded Ohio could come down to which team is able to dictate the tempo of the game, with a clash between USF's record-breaking defense and Ohio's uptempo offense.
The Bulls have held their last 12 opponents to 57 points or less -- the 57 was an overtime loss to Notre Dame that was 45-45 at the end of regulation, and the next-highest allowed in that stretch was 56 at then-No. 2 Syracuse. Ohio is at the other extreme -- the Bobcats haven't scored less than 60 in more than a month, and have been held under 60 just five times all season.
Ohio forward Reggie Keely was asked Saturday about the two teams' contrasting tempos and the Bobcats' plans for the game.
"We've got to take every opportunity we have to run, push the pace," he said. "We've got to try to force our will, and hopefully get the score in the high 60s, 70s. We know you can't play with that type of style."
USF is 3-4 this season when the Bulls give up 65 points or more in regulation, so it's a smart, if difficult strategy. Temple, for instance, came in averaging 76 points per game, which is five points more than Ohio averages, and USF held the Owls to 44 points on Friday. Cal entered Wednesday's game averaging 71 points per game, and trailed 57-25 with 8:40 to play in their loss to the Bulls.
Asked what team the Bobcats have faced that might compare closest to USF in terms of the Bulls' length defensively and the challenges that presents, Keely pointed to Marshall, which was a bubble team late in the year and a solid defensive team that held Syracuse in check in a 62-56 loss, also holding three teams to under 50 points. Ohio won at Marshall 70-68 -- that game might be a model for an Ohio win tonight. Marshall went 5-for-21 on 3-pointers, but helped the Bobcats by going 21 of 38 on free throws.
An uptempo game would help Ohio against a USF team that's already played twice in the previous four days. "We know they played three games in four days," Keely said, including his own game in the span. "We've got to really wear on them throughout the game."
And if USF is able to keep it slow, Ohio players said they don't mind grinding out a defensive game, even though they're 2-3 when they're held under 60 points.
"We can play slow as well," guard Walter Offutt said. "We can grind it out. We showed that we can grind it out. If it gets stuck in a halfcourt game, we can execute our sets with D.J. (Cooper), we're screening well and Reggie is cutting hard to the basket, getting post-ups, and me driving, giving it to (Nick) Kellogg. We can play a ground-out game. We'll have to battle it out, whichever way it is."
USF coach Stan Heath, asked if he recruits players targeting a defensive mindset, said he doesn't do that consciously, looking for toughness more than anything else.
"I remember when I was part of a national championship team (at Michigan State), we put on our rings 'Players play, tough players win,'" he said. "It was the initials, not the whole phrase. That was kind of the motto: Tough players win. So really, the ingredient I'm looking for is toughness and guys who are tough, guys who are competitive, guys who want to win and are going to do the things necessary, the hard work, the intangible things, the dirty work necessary to win."