Bobcats put rebounding improvement to the test

For two weeks, the Bobcats have been talking about, stressing about and logging practice rep after practice rep about rebounding.

It’s time to see how much they’ve learned.

Ohio forward Dwight Wilson III (left) ranks ninth in the MAC in scoring (15.3 ppg) and second in FG percentage (67.1). Wilson and the Bobcats play at Buffalo on Friday, Jan. 29, 2021. Photo by Jason Arkley

Ohio (9-6, 5-4 Mid-American Conference) hits the road on Friday night for a 7 p.m. tip-off at Buffalo (6-5, 4-3 MAC), and the Bulls are one of the best rebounding teams in the country. The game will air nationally on ESPNU.

The last time OU was in this position – poised for a break through against one of the perceived better teams in the league – the Bobcats were humbled in a home loss to Kent State when they were simply outclassed on the glass. Since that loss, Ohio has won two straight and posted a plus-20 edge in rebounds while knocking off Ball State and Western Michigan. The ‘Cats are a whopping plus-15 in offensive boards in the two-game sample size.

“It’s been more of a gang effort,” said Dwight Wilson III, the Bobcats’ best interior scorer (15.3 points per game) and rebounder (7.5). “That’s how you put teams away … That was the emphasis of the games coming up, and that’ll be the emphasis against Buffalo, another good rebounding team.”

The Bulls will challenge Ohio on the glass and in the paint in a way that will mirror what Kent State did two weeks ago. Buffalo gets more rebounds per game than any team in the country (43.3), including a MAC-leading (ninth nationally) 14.3 offensive rebounds per game.

The Bulls have talent, length and athleticism inside. Junior forward Jeenathan Williams is listed at just 6-foot-5, but ranks fourth in the MAC in scoring (20.1 ppg) and rebounding (8.2). Junior forward Josh Mballa (6-7) doesn’t have enough games logged to qualify for the league leaderboard, but adds 14.3 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.

Add in active guards in senior Jayvon Graves (15.3 ppg) and junior Ronaldo Segu (14.7, 50 percent from 3) and the Bulls have the tools to attack the glass.

And Buffalo is built to defend as well. UB leads the MAC in 3-point percentage defense (27.4 percent, ranks second in field goal defense (41.2 percent) and averages a MAC-best 3.91 blocked shots per game.

The Bulls will have fresh legs as well. Their last game came on Jan. 21 – eight days ago – as games with Northern Illinois and Central Michigan were postponed due to COVID-19 issues within those two programs. Buffalo has had six games canceled or postponed this season, the second for head coach Jim Whitesell.

““It’s not ideal for Buffalo to get a little extra rest going into play them,” Ohio head coach Jeff Boals said. “But we had sort of the same situation with our game against Ball State. It’s just the nature of what’s going on.” 

The game features two of the most efficient offenses in the league, and both teams are averaging more than 80 points per game. But it’s hard to see Ohio winning a shootout if Jason Preston doesn’t get back on track.

Over the last two games Preston is averaging just eight points per contest while hitting a combined 6-of-25 (24 percent) from the field. Preston still leads OU in scoring (16.5) and assists (7.8), but like Mballa doesn’t have enough games to qualify for the MAC leaderboard yet. Wilson, meanwhile, is ninth in the MAC in scoring and second in FG percentage (67.1 percent).

Approaching the halfway point of the 20-game MAC schedule, OU is one-game above .500 and sixth in the overall standings. The Bobcats haven’t posted a winning league record since 2016-17 when Saul Phillips guided OU to an 11-7 mark.

Neither Preston nor fourth-year junior Ben Vander Plas have tipped off a MAC game before with a winning conference record. Friday night will be the first for both.

“It’s crazy that we’ve never been there,” Vander Plas said.

Ohio leads the all-time series 32-18, but hasn’t won at Alumni Arena since 2017. OU lost 76-73 at UB in 2020 despite 27 points, nine rebounds and six assists from Preston, and a career-high 28 points from Vander Plas.

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