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Ohio's D.J. Cooper attempts a basket during the Bobcats' game against Central Michigan on Saturday, February 4.  Ohio defeated Central Michigan 68-42. (FILE)

Men's Basketball: Bobcats travel to Toledo to play rebuilding Rockets

The Bobcats are hoping to attack the glass and that their six-game win streak does not hit a glass ceiling in the Glass City Wednesday night.

Ohio (19-4, 7-2 Mid-American Conference) will take on Toledo in the first of back-to-back road games to close out its schedule against MAC West opponents. So far, the MAC East is a whopping 21-3 against the MAC West this year, but Toledo presents a potential trap before the second round of MAC East matchups begin.

A year after an abysmal 4-28 season, Toledo (10-13, 2-7 MAC) is making serious progress in its rebuilding campaign. The Rockets are more mature and have more pieces to the puzzle than last year, and the Bobcats are aware of that when traveling northwest.

“Our guys respect them. They’ve got some really good players,” coach John Groce said. “Their personnel and their team have really improved from last year. I know our guys will look forward to the challenge of playing them at their place.”

Even in its losses, Toledo has been competitive. The Rockets had a second-half lead against Cleveland State before dropping the game to the Vikings, and they trailed first-place Akron by a point before a questionable technical foul changed the momentum of the game.

Groce said Toledo reminds him of his own squad from two seasons ago.

“They’ve had six games that they’ve lost on the last possession of the game,” Groce said. “Five of those six has been in MAC play. It’s one of those deals where instead of 2-7, they could be 4-3 just like that.”

The Bobcats’ defense has been staunch lately, as they have held their opponents to 65 points or less in seven of their last eight games. Ohio limited Central Michigan to 42 points during Saturday’s win at The Convo.

Sophomore guard Rian Pearson leads the Rockets — and the conference — with 17.3 points per game. His eight rebounds per contest put him third in the MAC, and he has proved to be a threat inside as well as on the perimeter.

Pearson has registered 100 points in his last four games combined.

Groce said Ohio had the chance to prepare to defend Pearson against Central Michigan. Chippewa guard Trey Zeigler plays a similar hybrid game, and the Bobcats held him to 10 points.

“(Pearson) is a terrific player, a tough matchup,” Groce said. “He’s not just strictly a front-court player. He has the ability to play both inside and out.”

Junior point guard D.J. Cooper is expected to start Wednesday. He missed the final five minutes of Saturday’s game after injuring his left wrist but practiced Monday and Tuesday.

With a win, the Bobcats would notch their 20th victory of the season. Ohio came just short of that milestone last season after winning 22 games during the 2009-10 season.

“I think it means a lot,” sophomore guard Ricardo Johnson said. “We still have a lot more games to play and being able to approach the 20th win is a step forward for our program.”

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