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Boards Bobcats' top concern vs. Broncos

Between their new black jerseys and the rivalry game against Miami on Gary Trent Day, the Bobcats have had lots of razzle to complement their on-court dazzle. But Wednesday’s contest will be less about fun and more about


Ohio (15-4, 3-2 Mid-American Conference) opens a six-game stretch against MAC West teams when Western Michigan visits The Convo Wednesday night. The Broncos gallop into town with impressive rebounding figures.

Western Michigan (9-10, 3-2 MAC) leads the MAC in offensive rebounding and is second in defensive rebounding. This sets up a gritty matchup against an Ohio squad that grabs more offensive boards than any team — except its next opponent.

“We’ve got to do the little things: take charges, dive on loose balls, and our defense has to be there and our rebounding,” junior forward Ivo Baltic said.

“Anytime your offense is struggling, your defense should always be there to back you up and help you stay in the game.”

Baltic and Ohio’s other big men have a rather large task ahead of them: containing the Broncos’ Matt Stainbrook. The sophomore center clocks in at 6-foot-9 and 290 pounds, making him a powerful presence in the paint.

Stainbrook leads Western Michigan in scoring (13.4 points per game) and in rebounding (7.1 per game) and is in the top 10 in the conference in both categories. He leads the MAC with a 58 percent shooting mark from the field.

Coach John Groce said his team’s task will be defending and rebounding without getting into foul trouble.

“We’ve got to defend without fouling,” Groce said “They’re ferocious on the glass. That’s always been a trait of a Steve Hawkins-coached team, so we’ve got to do a good job of keeping them off the backboard.”

Ohio’s edge might come in the turnover department. The Bobcats generate more turnovers than any other MAC squad, and the Broncos have committed the most foibles in the league. Ohio typically protects the ball well, and Western

Michigan has fewer takeaways than any other in the MAC.

“We’ve got to earn the right to play well,” said freshman guard Stevie Taylor.

“We’re not entitled to come out and play well. We just got to come out and practice well and compete in practice.”

Ohio now enters the gritty, grimy part of the schedule. The Bobcats have no more rivalry games for three weeks, and it’s far too early to look ahead to the MAC Tournament. Each MAC West team wants to dismantle their foes from the MAC East, which has been billed as the stronger division this season.

“When we play tomorrow night, there’s no black jerseys. Gary Trent’s not here.

There’s no jersey ceremony,” Groce said. “It’s maturity time. Better lace ’em up, better play. You can’t have external factors be the reason you’re motivated or inspired to play basketball in this league, because if that’s the case, then you’re going to be up and down.”


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