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Guard D.J Cooper goes up for a shot against Robert Morris defenders on Monday, Jan. 2. The Ohio Bobcats lost to Robert Morris 64-70.

Men's Basketball: Ohio's troubles persist as MAC play begins

Coming off a tough loss to Robert Morris, coach John Groce said he was proud of his team’s intensity despite its difficulty executing. But in the Mid-American Conference opener, the team took another step backward.

Ohio continued its shooting slump and failed to control the boards in a disheartening 67-57 loss to Bowling Green Saturday. The Bobcats did not correct any of their major errors from their previous loss and continued their road struggles against the Falcons.   

“They imposed their will,” Groce said. “It’s disappointing. It’s really disappointing. And we’ve got to play a heck of a lot better than we played (Saturday).”

Only two games ago, Ohio (12-3, 0-1 MAC) was on the brink of cracking the Associated Press top 25 for the first time since 1994. But a loss to a team with a losing record brought the harsh reality that even the best non-conference records mean little once MAC play begins.

The Bobcats allowed their opponents to convert on more than 50 percent of their field goals for the second straight game. Four Bowling Green (7-7, 1-0 MAC) players finished in double figures, and big man Scott Thomas finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds for a double-double.

“We’ve come back from Christmas and haven’t defended worth a darn,” Groce said. “We’ve got to defend better. If we’re going to expect different results, we better get that field goal percentage defensive number down, both from the field and from the 3-point line.”

Offensively, Ohio again struggled from the 3-point line. Sharpshooter Nick Kellogg hit only one of his six attempts from long range, and the team finished 4-for-20 from beyond the arc. Junior point guard D.J. Cooper sank three of his seven 3-pointers but finished only 2-for-10 from close range. He finished with a team-high 15 points.

For the Bobcats, the problem is not raw skill. They proved that their young roster was full of talented players during an impressive 12-1 start during which the only loss was a five-point decision on the road against No. 7 Louisville.

Groce said the more recent struggles are about the team’s toughness.

“There is a difference between effort and toughness,” he said. “You can play hard, but toughness plays — loose balls, rebounds, free-throw block out, a tenacity to get stops the last 15 seconds of the shot clock when they’re milking it — they were tougher than we were.”

And perhaps the Bobcats’ toughest tests are ahead of them. Akron and Kent State were picked to finish ahead of Ohio in a preseason poll, and Buffalo returns 3-point specialist Zach Filzen and formidable forward Javon McCrea. The Bobcats will host the Bulls Wednesday night.

“We better start defending and rebounding better,” Groce said. “That’s on me and the guys in the locker room. Those numbers are insulting. They’re embarrassing.”

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