Jeff Boals believes his team bears little resemblance to the one that began the Mid-American Conference season six weeks ago.
And that’s a good thing. And the Bobcats will get a chance to prove it Tuesday night.
Ohio (11-12, 3-7 MAC) takes on Western Michigan (11-12, 4-6 MAC) at 7 p.m. in the Convo. It’s a huge game in terms of OU’s hopes for earning a home game in the first round of the 2020 MAC Tournament. With a win, the Bobcats will shuffle up into a tie for eighth-place in the overall MAC standings.
But, with a loss, Ohio could find itself three full games (with the head-to-head tiebreaker accounted for) behind the Broncos with just seven left to play for that coveted eighth-place spot.
But Boals and the Bobcats are feeling better about their chances this time around against WMU, despite a 77-65 loss in Kalamazoo in the MAC opener for both teams.
“We’re a much different team now than we were then and hopefully the outcome will be different,” Boals said.
How is Ohio different? For starters, the Bobcats have a little experience. More than half of OU’s roster had never played in a MAC game when the Bobcats headed to WMU in early January.
Secondly, the Bobcats are healthier. Senior guard Jordan Dartis isn’t just coming back from the flu like he was in January. Freshmen Miles Brown and Ben Roderick were barely part of the rotation six weeks ago, and now are integral parts appearing to get better each time out. Junior wing Connor Murrell is back in the mix — he played Saturday for the first time in weeks — and redshirt freshmen forwards Mason McMurray and Nate Springs are both available for the first time in two weeks.
And third, OU has a little confidence. Ohio’s 31-point win over Miami was its biggest over a D-I opponent this season, and it’s biggest over its rival since 1941.
“It was huge. No. 1 we won, and No. 2 how we won the game,” Boals said. “That’s the first time in a long time we’ve won a game in a dominant fashion.
“Hopefully that catapults and carries us on but it’s not going to win the game for us on Tuesday night.”
The Bobcats had a lot of regrets about the first meeting this season against WMU. The Broncos opened the game with a 13-0 run, and led for 37 of the 40 minutes.
Ohio, according to Boals, missed “14 wide-open 3s and eight layups.”
And despite all that, Ohio still led — 59-57 — with 5:34 remaining. Then WMU wrapped it up with a 20-6 finish.
“We just dropped one. I don’t think they beat us, we just dropped that one,” Dartis said Saturday. “Get them back on our home court, we’re locked in and focused and ready to get the next one.”
To change the outcome against WMU, Ohio will need to do three things. First, get off to a better start. And second, limit the damage the Broncos can do in the paint.
In the first meeting, freshman center Titus Wright had a career-high 16 points and junior forward Brandon Johnson added 18 points.
And third, the Bobcats will have to be better about not fouling. WMU hit 24 of 28 free throws in the game, and the Broncos are among the nation’s best in getting to the foul line. WMU sees 39.9 percent of its possessions end in free throws — 29th best in the country. That rate has dipped only to 38.5 in conference games.
Between post-touches, free throws and 19 fast-break points, the Broncos won the game in the lane.
“They put a lot of pressure on you by one, throwing the ball inside,” Boals said.
“They post up, post hard. They’ll drive the basketball,” the coach added. “It’s easier said than done. Your post defense has to be good and it starts on the perimeter with ball pressure and deflections and not allowing it come in easily.”
Preston earns weekly nod
Ohio sophomore guard Jason Preston was named a co-MAC East Division Player of the Week on Monday following his performance on Saturday against Miami.
Preston logged the first triple-double in over eight years when he collected 15 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists against the RedHawks. He hit 6 of 9 shots from the field and 3-of-4 from the foul line.
For Preston, it was his fourth MAC East Player of the Week award this season.
Home finale moved up
Ohio’s final home game of the season has had both a date, and a time change.
The Bobcats’ home game on Feb. 29 has been selected as the MAC Wildcard Selection by CBS Sports Network. The game has been moved from Saturday afternoon to Friday, Feb. 28 at 6:30 p.m. in the Convocation Center.
The game will be broadcast nationally on CBS Sports Network.