Box Score (PDF)
By Pete Nakos and Janie Dulaney
ATHENS, Ohio -- Behind a game-high 16 points from freshman guard Teyvion Kirk (Joliet, Ill.), the Ohio men's basketball team (1-0) defeated Alabama A&M (0-1), 61-53, in the 2017-18 regular season opener on Saturday (Nov. 11) at the Convocation Center.
Ohio won its season opener for the 14th year in a row and improved to 8-0 all-time against opponents out of the Southwestern Athletic Conference -- including 6-0 under fourth-year head coach Saul Phillips.
The Bobcats held the Bulldogs to a 33.9 percent (21-of-62) field goal percentage -- including just 21.1 percent (4-of-19) from beyond the arc. Ohio forced Alabama A&M to commit 24 turnovers and blocked six shots.
"It's going to be really important for our young guys in particular to take away the fact that we did hold them to 33-34 percent shooting for the game," said Phillips. "We did hold them to 21 percent on threes, so there's some positive in that. It was an insane sequence of decisions that allowed the game to come back into question a little bit, and we will certainly take it and learn from it. Offensively, we lacked an identity at times tonight. When it's going great, we're just fine, but we need to shoot the ball better. Five-for-twenty one is going to get us beat from three. I thought we generated some open looks, but we didn't put the ball in the basket, and, again, were able to lean on our defense enough to win the game."
In his debut for the Bobcats, Kirk also added four rebounds, two assists and a steal over 32 minutes in his first career start.
"I kind of got those chills out [of the way] at the first exhibition game, kind of like a feel [on] how the game was going to go," said Kirk. "I just try to come in to every game feeling like it's practice. These guys just do a good job. They believe in me."
Junior guard/forward Gavin Block (Lincoln, Ill.) finished a rebound short of a double-double with 12 points and nine boards to go along with a game-high five assists in 35 mintues. Graduate forward Kevin Mickle (Brooklyn, N.Y.) scored 10 points in 24 minutes off of the bench and also chipped in two rebounds, two steals and a block. Senior guard Mike Laster (Detroit, Mich.) started his first game since his freshman year, contributing eight points, two assists and a rebound over 34 minutes of play. Junior forward Doug Taylor (Columbus, Ohio) had a game-high 12 rebounds and a game-high four blocks to set new career highs. He also scored six points and had a steal in 24 minutes of work.
Ohio scored 20 of its 32 first-half points in the paint to take a 10-point lead into the locker room, with Kirk leading the way with 12 points.
The Bobcats' lead swelled to a game-high 19 points at 53-34 when Block knocked down a jumper with just over seven minutes to play. A pair of treys by Block and another by freshman guard Zach Butler (Spartanburg, S.C.) helped Ohio mount the big lead. The Bulldogs roared back, though, going on a 19-4 run over the next six-plus minutes to trim Ohio's lead down to four at 57-53 with 45 seconds to play. Junior forward Andre Kennedy and junior forward Mohamed Sherif provided Alabama A&M with a pair of and-one layups, junior guard Arthur Johnson hit a three and sophomore guard De'Ederick Petty capped the run with a layup. Mickle and Kirk iced the victory for the Bobcats, though, as each knocked down a pair of freebies in the final 30 seconds to start the new season off with a win for Ohio.
Block led the way for Ohio's offense in the second half, going 4-of-9 from the field with a pair of triples for 10 points. He also distributed three assists, grabbed three rebounds and tallied two steals over the final 20 minutes of the contest.
"I think we had good (defensive) pressure on the ball," said Block. "They made some tough shots going in the lane. I would say that's mostly just lapses shooting the ball. Five-from-twenty one on the three -- that's not us. We can shoot better. Got to knock them in."
Sherif tallied 14 points over 29 minutes to lead Alabama A&M in scoring and tied for the team lead with seven rebounds. Johnson knocked down two three-pointers and finished with 12 points, seven rebounds, two steals and an assist in 27 minutes of work. Petty contributed eight points, two rebounds and a steal over 27 minutes. Kennedy scored seven points and piled up six rebounds to go along with a steal in 31 minutes.
Ohio will fly south to take part in the tenth annual Gildan Charleston Classic, to be played Nov. 16, 17 & 19 at TD Arena in Charleston, S.C. The bracket-format tournament features 12 games over three days. The teams compete once per day, advancing with a victory. The two teams that remain undefeated will face off in the championship game on Sun., Nov. 19. Ohio will open the Gildan Charleston Classic by taking on Atlantic Coast Conference foe Clemson next Thursday (Nov. 16) at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN2.