Battle of the Bricks

Ohio University men’s basketball coach Jeff Boals, seen here in the Convo earlier this season, will try to guide the Bobcats out of a four-game losing skid when OU takes on Miami at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020 inside the Convocation Center.

As you might expect, Jeff Boals has plenty of memories of his days as a Bobcat basketball player battling on the court against the Miami RedHawks.

One of the best was an 89-66 win over Miami in the MAC Tournament Championship game in 1994, in Battelle Hall in Columbus. The win put OU in the NCAA Tournament.

And there are other less favorable memories as well. Boals recalled after a road loss in Oxford his coach — Larry Hunter — ran his team through a transition defense drill for 90 full minutes.

“We did a drill called 3-on-2, 2-on-1 for about an hour and a half,” Boals said Thursday, while able to smirk at the remembered agony. “It was a bad, bad memory.

“We still talk about that practice.”

Ohio, and Miami for that matter, are in desperate straits for a positive memory. The Bobcats (10-12, 2-7 MAC) have lost four straight, and the RedHawks (9-13, 2-7 MAC) have severely underperformed this season. The two teams will meet for the 206th time on Saturday, beginning at approximately 3:30 p.m. in the Convo.

The game will be the second of a women’s-men’s doubleheader on Saturday; the Ohio women (14-7, 7-3 MAC) face Kent State (12-8, 5-4 MAC) starting at 1 p.m. It’s also Sibs’ Weekend at OU, and in this rivalry series it’s clear who is the ‘little’ brother of late.

Ohio is 14-3 against Miami since the start of the 2011 season, and the Bobcats have won eight straight games against the RedHawks in the Convo, including a 66-57 decision in Athens last season.

Ohio enjoyed an off-date this week — no scheduled game on Tuesday — and is hoping a chance to regroup with a rival on deck will help the team get back on track.

“We’ve had a chance to get some rest, get some treatment and now it’s time to get back to who we are,” said Ohio sophomore forward Ben Vander Plas.

“And this is a fun game to play in. A lot of people don’t like each other,” he added.

Miami, meanwhile, could use a chance for a reset. More was expected of the Redhawks this season with three returning starters but it hasn’t clicked under third-year head coach Jack Owens.

Miami is just 1-6 in road games this season. Talented junior wing Nike Sibande is questionable after playing just six minutes on Tuesday night. And the RedHawks are relying a pair of freshmen guards — Dae Dae Grant and Myja White — for major minutes.

Grant (12.8 ppg in MAC play), Sibande (13.4 ppg) and junior forward Dalonte Brown (11.5 ppg) give Miami plenty of scoring punch, but it’s at the other end of the floor where the RedHawks have particularly struggled.

Miami is last in the MAC in defensive efficiency, and one of the worst teams in the country, in allowing 110.2 points per 100 possessions (311th nationally). In MAC play, the RedHawks clock in at last in the conference in effective FG percentage defense, free throw rate for the opponent, and 3-point shooting defense.

Despite those issues, however, Miami looks a lot like Ohio right now. The Bobcats have five conference losses by a total of 25 points; the RedHawks have five MAC losses by a total of 29 points.

“They’ve been in a lot of games but haven’t been able to close them out,” Boals said. “Both teams are struggling right now but that doesn’t take away from an Ohio-Miami game.”

Ohio will enter the second half of league play in a three-way tie for last place (with Miami and EMU) in the overall MAC standings. WMU (3-6 MAC) and Toledo (3-7) are within striking distance, and Buffalo (5-5) currently sits in seventh place.

To engineer a second-half climb up the standings is Ohio’s goal right now. But Boals hasn’t spent much time detailing what has to happen or the Bobcats’ potential landing spot.

Right now, the season is a day-to-day process.

“We got to worry about today. We’re not in a position where we’re 8-2 and fighting for a bye and to win the league type of deal,” he said.

Ohio will be back to relatively full strength on Saturday. Junior wing Connor Murrell (abdomen) is available, and redshirt freshman forward Mason McMurray (foot) should also be ready if called on.

Vander Plas said despite OU’s current position, things remain positive in the Bobcat camp.

“For me, it’s just remembering what I’m doing: I’m playing basketball,” he said. “It’s a game I’ve loved my entire life.

“It’s understanding that every single day I get to come out here is a blessing. It can get taken away at any moment.”

Email at jarkley@athensmessenger.com; follow on Twitter @JasonAmessenger

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