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Ohio forward DeVaughn Washington dunks as an Akron defender watches Tuesday in The Convo. Ohio won 80-55. The Bobcats play at Miami tonight. (Alex Goodlett | STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)

Men's Basketball: Bobcats eye 1st-round bye after overcoming tumultuous MAC start

Even with his plane hitting turbulence, coach John Groce remained calm as he piloted through shaky skies.

After starting 1-4 to begin the Mid-American Conference schedule, Groce has maintained the mentality for his team to take the season day-by-day through struggles or successes. Now, the Bobcats stand at 9-6 in the MAC with a chance to secure a first-round bye against Miami tonight.

“The biggest thing is that this team has grown closer,” Groce said. “After the way we lost to Buffalo at home and the way that happened, these guys have made more of a commitment to doing tougher things well.”

The Bobcat offense has been strong all season, but playing effective defense had been absent — especially in the late minutes of games — during the first trip through the MAC East teams.

The Bobcats used the early losses to learn lessons and build off the lessons of last season’s NCAA Tournament run. For a senior such as Tommy Freeman, last year’s storm through the MAC Tournament affirmed to him the same thing could happen now.

“I just told our young guys, ‘We’re at the same point as we were last year,’” Freeman said. “ … We put that chip back on our shoulder and it’s been working for us. I don’t think anyone expected us to play for the 3 seed after how we started.”

The persistence has culminated in a confident effort during the final MAC stretch.

Offensively, Ohio has not faltered and has the individual ability to score at a high-rate in any game.

On the other end of the court, Nick Kellogg’s aggressive perimeter defense shows the transition. It also has been seen in DeVaughn Washington’s increased fight in the post.

“We were just tired of losing,” forward Ivo Baltic said. “Actions speak louder than words, and we knew that’s what we had to do.”

The evolution now culminates in a final showdown with Miami, one that means more than a typical “Battle of the Bricks” matchup. With a win, Ohio can secure a first-round bye and the third seed in the MAC tournament.

Despite what the game means, the Bobcats are still applying the mentality that put them in this position.

“We’re just trying to win,” Baltic said. “… Right now, we might be guaranteed a home game, but we’re trying to get this one and move forward.”


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