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Reggie Keely, junior, goes for the goal during the first half of the Bobcats' ESPN BracketBuster game against UNC-Asheville. Ohio won, 81-62, and will travel to face Buffalo Wednesday. (Julia Moss | For The Post)

Men's Basketball: Ohio hopes to grab bull by horns, climb to third place in MAC East

Ohio successfully used a two-game losing streak as a red cloak to escape with a critical win against Buffalo last month. But now the Bulls know better, and they will be charging again Wednesday night.

The Bobcats will travel across state lines for the last time during the regular season to face a Bulls squad that will be hungry to avenge its most recent loss as well as its January defeat to the Bobcats.

Buffalo (16-8, 9-3 Mid-American Conference) was one of two MAC teams to play in a televised game during the ESPN-sponsored BracketBuster series last weekend, but the result was not worth watching. The Bulls dropped a road contest to South Dakota State, 86-65.

Though the loss did not harm Buffalo’s MAC record, the team still had to travel more than 1,000 miles just to lose a game on national television. Couple that with the team’s loss to Kent State last Tuesday, and the Bulls are one loss away from falling out of second place in the MAC.

The Bobcats, meanwhile, can climb to third place in the MAC East by earning a season sweep of the Bulls. But this time around, Ohio will take to the road in search of victory.

“We’ve played in a lot of great places. We won at Marshall, won at Oakland, won in Northern Iowa, all tough places to play at,” said sophomore forward Jon Smith. “We played at Louisville in front of a tough crowd. We’ve just got to focus on what we need to do and go up there and execute.”

But none of those games were part of the conference schedule, and Ohio has struggled on the road since the onset of MAC play. The Bobcats are 1-4 away from The Convo against conference opponents despite posting a perfect 7-0 MAC record at home.

“We’ve got to carry our defense with us, and we’ve got to step up and make a few plays on offense,” coach John Groce said. “We’re well aware that the game on Wednesday is going to be a challenge and a battle. We can’t beat ourselves.”

Ohio’s last trip to Buffalo ended in the Bobcats’ favor. After trailing by as many as nine points in the second half, Ohio scored 40 points in the final 15 minutes to escape with a 76-69 win.

Sophomore forward Javon McCrea and the rest of the Bulls will be looking to protect their own hardwood — just as Ohio did in January to avenge a home loss to Buffalo in 2011.

“He’s one of the better big men in the MAC. We understand that,” Smith said.

“We’ve got a pretty good game plan going against him.”

Buffalo boasts the fourth-best rebounding margin in the country. The Bobcats edged the Bulls in boards during their first meeting, but Buffalo has won the rebounding battle in every other conference game this season.

The last time these teams met, McCrea got into foul trouble early in the game and played only 20 minutes against the Bobcats. He finished with only eight points and four rebounds.

“We did the little things that allowed us to win the ballgame,” Groce said. “Can we do them again? We’re more than capable of that. We’ll have to pack our defense with us on the trip and compete on the glass and step up and make a few plays on offense.”


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