Time to climb is now for Bobcats

In this, the most unpredictable of seasons, I’m going go out on a limb here and say IF the basketball Bobcats are going to make a move into contention in the Mid-American Conference then it’s going to happen soon.

Like right now.

Ohio coach Jeff Boals huddles up with his Bobcats during a home win over Miami on Jan. 12, 2021. Photo by Jason Arkley

Ohio (7-5, 3-3 MAC) takes on Kent State (5-3, 2-2 MAC) on Saturday in a 2 p.m. start at the Convocation Center. To this point, the Bobcats have been inconsistent in conference play and that’s reflected with OU’s place in the standings – a three-way tie for fifth. Ohio is 1-2, at this point, against the top four of the conference.

But if a turn is going to happen, the best bet is it will start to show over the next two weeks. Ohio looked sharp on Tuesday night, in an easy win against Miami, and that game started a stretch of four home games in a five-game stretch.

This five-game slice also features games against Miami, Kent State, at NIU, vs. Ball State and vs. Western Michigan. Miami, NIU and WMU are all teams that will finish in the bottom third of the league. OU has already notched wins against both the Huskies and the Cardinals.

It’s time to start climbing for the Bobcats.

Coach Jeff Boals isn’t in the predicting business, but at this point in the season he believes his team has figured out the formula to winning games. And with Jason Preston back in the lineup, all the pieces are in place to make it happen.

When Ohio plays with max effort, communicates and is active on the defensive end, wins tend to follow.

“The blueprint’s there,” Boals said. “The games we haven’t done that, we’ve lost.”

On Saturday, the Bobcats will pit that blueprint against the Golden Flashes’ approach – which features the toughest interior in the MAC.

As has often been the case under veteran coach Rob Senderoff, Kent State will be among the most athletic teams in the league. For the Flashes, this year, that is manifesting itself with a trio of seniors who have helped KSU own the paint.

6-foot-9 forward Danny Pippen is second in the MAC in scoring (20.9 points per game) and collars 8.7 rebounds per contest. Center Justyn Hamilton (6-11), a Temple transfer, is another double-double threat with 10.4 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. Portland State transfer Mike Nuga is fifth in the MAC with 19.0 points a game and adds 5.6 rebounds per contest.

 “They’ve typically been a program that leans on transfers,” Boals said. “And (Senderoff) has had a really good run there, which you don’t see much. In the MAC…guys either tend to move on or you get fired. You don’t see them stick like he has.”

Kent State has cashed in its size and strength inside. The Flashes lead the MAC in FG percentage defense (38.7 percent allowed, 20th nationally), points allowed (67.5 per game) and rebounding margin (plus-8.2). KSU is second in the MAC in offensive rebounds per game (13.8, 21st nationally), and has turned that edge into 84 second-chance points in the last three games.

The Flashes have had three MAC games pushed back already due to COVID-19 issues, theirs and their opponents, but has won two in a row and nearly pinned Toledo with a league loss in a two-point setback 11 days ago.

Ohio will counter with balance, across the lineup and both inside and outside. All five starters are double-digit scorers including Preston, Dwight Wilson III (15.3 pppg), wing Ben Roderick (12.4), forward Ben Vander Plas (12.7) and off-guard Lunden McDay (9.9).

The Bobcats have already won three out their last four games. If they can flummox the Flashes, it will be time to start thinking of a potential streak.

The formula is there, Boals said. Now can his team replicate it?

“Like very year there’s lots of parity (in the MAC),” the coach said. “You can’t really just show up and win.

“You have to have that ability to focus in each game out. We have to prepare for a faceless opponent every game, and our effort level shouldn’t change.”

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