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Ohio’s Jon Smith goes up for a basket during the Bobcats’ game against Central Michigan. Ohio defeated Central Michigan 68-42 last Saturday. (Brien Vincent | Staff Photographer)

Men's Basketball: Board control, game tempo critical for Bobcats

In order to rebound from a tough loss, Ohio will have to — well, rebound.

The Bobcats (19-5, 7-3 Mid-American Conference) failed to control the boards in Wednesday’s road loss to Toledo. Rebounding has been a bit of a wild card for Ohio all season, especially in conference play.

Ohio has lost the battle on the boards in four of its five games against MAC West teams. The Bobcats outrebounded Central Michigan in a dominant win, but every other interdivisional game has been too close for comfort.

The loss to the Rockets was especially disheartening, as Toledo had more offensive rebounds than Ohio had defensive rebounding. That led to 17 second-chance points and contributed to 36 points in the paint.

The Bobcats had not allowed 77 points in a conference game all season.

Coach John Groce said Ohio’s relapse resulted from poor communication and lackluster transition defense.

“Defensively we’ve got to get back in transition, communicate, and then when the ball gets on the backboard, we need to get more aggressive,” he said.

Those skills will be especially important Saturday during Ohio’s road contest against Eastern Michigan (10-14, 5-5 MAC). The Eagles play at a slower pace than any other team in the MAC, with each game they play averaging 113 points between the two teams. Every other MAC team’s composite score is at least 10 points higher.

Groce attributed Eastern Michigan’s stingy defense (59.8 points allowed per game) to its persistent zone play.

“They do a great job of grinding it out, making it a low-possession game,” Groce said.

With fewer possessions, each trip down the court carries more weight. That, in turn, puts extra emphasis on every offensive rebound and mental mistake. And though Ohio has struggled on the glass at times, generating turnovers has been a consistent strong point.

On average, the Bobcats force 5.17 turnovers per game more than they commit. That edge might be amplified in Ypsilanti, Mich., this weekend.

“Eighty to 90 percent of what we do every night is the same. We have a system of play, and it’s our job to impose our will, our system on the opponent,” Groce said.

That system involves a much higher tempo than the Eagles prefer. By cracking down on the transition game and communication that Groce said was lacking against Toledo, Ohio might find an edge.

“We’re always trying to play as fast a pace as possible. But sometimes you’ve got to be disciplined,” he said. “You’ve got to do a good job defending the last 15 seconds of the shot clock. The best teams have the ability to adapt and to play different styles.”

By this time in the season, every MAC school is familiar with all of its opponents. Eastern Michigan is familiar with Ohio’s up-tempo play, meaning that one team will have to yield to the other’s playing style.

“In conference games, everyone knows what everyone’s doing,” Groce said. “There might be a wrinkle or two by the opponent or by us, but at the end of the day, familiarity breeds contempt.”

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