Preview: Ohio Hosts Two MAC Foes This Week

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Ohio has started Mid-American Conference play undefeated at 2-0 by defeating Buffalo and Western Michigan last week. The Bobcats also earned their first road victory of the season in Kalamazoo, Mi.

Their two wins were far different production-wise, though. The Bobcats shot 50.8% from the field and beat the Bulls in an 86-68 clobbering. Ohio had 26 assists as a team and opened up MAC play with a statement.

Then came Saturday’s game. The Bobcats shot just 28.6% from three, their second lowest three-point percentage this year. It was the first time Ohio won while committing more turnovers (16) than forcing them (11). Even though they walked away with the 61-59 victory, D.J. Cooper and company nearly handed the Broncos the win.

Jim Christian was pleased with the victory, even though his team is shooting 50.9% from the field in the Convocation Center and 41.1% in opponents’ arenas. Nonetheless, they got the win. That’s what matters when MAC play begins.

The Bobcats have shot a combined 46.0% from the field against MAC opponents and is averaging 80.33 points per game in the month of January, a season high.

Ohio will look to continue its impressive streak at home this week against Northern Illinois and Toledo.

The Huskies come to Athens, Oh. this Wednesday in search of a win in the Convocation Center for the first time since 2006-07. They return a young lineup this season that has struggled to get going, starting the season at 3-11.

Among the top players returning for Northern Illinois is Abdel Nader. The 6-foot-7 forward was named to the MAC Freshman Team last year and has been averaging 13.6 points and 4.3 rebounds through seven games this season.

Nader’s season began later than anticipated when the sophomore was indefinitely suspended for violating team rules. In the seven games without Nader, the Huskies went 2-5. With him, they are 1-6.

Nader is by far their best player, but his production has not been as high against MAC opponents this year, shooting 25% from the field (6/24) and averaging 10.0 points and 3.5 rebounds.

Aksel Bolin often teams up with Nader down low, but the 6-foot-7 forward has been on-and-off this season for the Huskies. He’ll hit the occasional three (at least one in 10 of 14 games), but is not a spectacular shooter from beyond the arc, shooting 35.3% this season.

On a weak rebounding team – 218th in the nation with 34.2 rebounds a game – Bolin leads the Huskies with 4.4 a game. Against bigger teams, he can be easily controlled. Akron held him to only three rebounds in a season-low 10 minutes last week.

Akeem Springs has been producing for Northern Illinois in his first season at the guard position. The 6-foot-3 freshman is averaging 9.4 points and 3.4 rebounds this season and has had his fair share of big games, including a 21 point, nine rebound outing against Milwaukee.

The Huskies are ranked among the bottom tier of Division I teams in several offensive categories including points per game (334th with 57.7) and field goal percentage (337th with 37.8%).

Ohio will continue its MAC home stand on Saturday against the 6-7 Toledo Rockets, who have won four of their last five including two wins over MAC foes Kent State and Central Michigan.

Junior Rian Pearson continues to progress from his sophomore year surge, where he averaged 16.4 points and 8.3 rebounds. The 6-foot-4 guard has taken more of a scoring load this season, averaging a conference-leading 19.8 points per game.

He rarely shoots from beyond the arc and with good reason. Pearson shoots 29.4% from three but 47.9% from the field otherwise. He possesses incredible athleticism, shown by his ability to rise above the rim and slam it home at any time.

The lefty is capable to pull down several rebounds, averaging 6.4 a game this season. Although graceful around the rim, he will force some shots instead of passing to a teammate in search of an easier option.

In Toledo’s win over Kent State, Pearson was huge for the Rockets. He walked away with 27 points and nine rebounds. He also had similar success against Eastern Illinois, where he had 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting.

Toledo features another guard that is capable of going off at anytime in Julius Brown. The 5-foot-10 sophomore is averaging 13.6 points and 5.0 assists a game and has scored 20 or more points on four occasions this season. Brown’s the conductor of the offense, averaging 9.5 assists in conference play.

When he’s cold from behind the arc, he’s extremely cold. Against Western Michigan, the guard shot the three-ball eight times, hitting the bottom of the net once. He had similar struggles against Northern Iowa, shooting 2-of-9 from three.

With two guards struggling to hit the deep ball, Toledo relies on their big man Matt Smith to provide a spark from outside. Smith is currently sixth in the MAC with a 42.9% three-point percentage. The 6-foot-7 shooter is averaging 9.1 points a game this season.

Outside of Smith, the Rockets have a small lineup. Their only other big man receiving 20-plus minutes is Nathan Boothe, a 6-foot-9 freshman. The 250-pound youngster is averaging 8.3 points and 5.7 rebounds in his rookie year. He had 10 points and seven rebounds against the Golden Flashes, but has yet to reach 10 rebounds this season.

Tipoff is at 7 p.m. on Wednesday between the Bobcats and Northern Illinois. There will be a free replica black jersey and free Taco Bell for the first 1,000 students. Ohio will then stay in town for Saturday’s game against Toledo in the Convocation Center at 6 p.m.