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Ohio's John Smith goes up for a basket during the Bobcats' game against Central Michigan on Saturday, February 4. Ohio defeated Central Michigan 68-42.

Men's Basketball: Northwest territory a high-loss zone after Ohio's 3rd defeat there

Apparently, the weather is not the only thing that tends to go cold when Ohio travels northwest.

The Bobcats dropped a 68?55 decision against the Central Michigan University Eagles Saturday to end a two-game road test with no wins to show for the effort. Three of Ohio’s four conference losses have come in the same 70-mile stretch in Northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan.

Junior forward Ivo Baltic was limited to only four minutes of playing time during Saturday’s game because of a knee injury he sustained in practice earlier last week. Sophomore T.J. Hall and junior Reggie Keely started the game at forward while Baltic rested and Jon Smith served as a reserve. That marked only the third deviation from Ohio’s regular starting lineup this season.

The Bobcats’ 55-point performance was their second-lowest of the season and their lowest in a regular-season conference game since March 2009. Ohio had seemingly gotten past its 3-point woes, but those resurfaced Saturday. The Bobcats (19-6, 7-4 MAC) made only six of their 26 attempts from long range, including a 4-for-17 mark from point guards D.J. Cooper and Stevie Taylor.

But coach John Groce attributed his team’s struggles more to defense than to offense. Eastern Michigan shot 50 percent from the field and a whopping 67 percent from 3-point territory.

Foul trouble also plagued the Bobcats, who allowed the Eagles to shoot 33 free throws. Eastern Michigan added 24 points from the charity stripe.

“It was more of a defensive execution issue in my mind,” Groce said. “Our defense was atrocious both halves. This team has to defend and affect field-goal percentage to win.

“We’re not that team that’s going to score 80 or 90 points. At the end of the day that hurt us more than anything else on the road trip.”

Keely paced Ohio offensively in his first start of the season, as he finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Cooper put up a team-high 15 points, and junior guard Walter Offutt chipped in with 11.

Da’Shonte Riley, the Eagles’ 7-foot center, was relatively unproductive because of foul trouble. He finished with three points, five rebounds and four fouls in 15 minutes on the floor.

Derek Thompson scored 23 points in 18 minutes off the bench to pace the Eagles. Thompson nailed three of his four 3-point attempts and eight of his 10 free throws.

The Bobcats find themselves riding their second two-game losing streak of the season. Both slides came immediately after winning streaks of at least six games. Ohio now sits in fourth place in the highly competitive MAC East.

The team will play its final five conference games against divisional opponents, and each contest is either on the road or against a squad who has already beaten the Bobcats this year.

“At the end of the day, our calling card in games like this has been our defense,” Groce said. “But I didn’t think we guarded particularly well today. We’ve got to figure out a way to get our defense back prior to Wednesday’s game.”

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