Ohio Faces Litmus Test In Kent State Matchup

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Ohio (10-3) opens up Mid-American Conference play Wednesday with a road game against the team that sits behind it in second place in the MAC East, Kent State (9-4).

Kent State stormed out of the gate this season, winning eight of its first nine games. Since starting the season 8-1, the Golden Flashes have gone 1-3 and are currently riding a two-game losing streak. One of the big reasons that the Flashes have struggled as of late is their troubles at the free throw stripe.

In its game against Cleveland State, a 78-70 loss, Kent State went 19-29 on free throw attempts. Then in its next game the Golden Flashes went 14-22 from the line – making for a combined average of 64.7 percent in the two-game span. The recent free throw troubles for the Golden Flashes are likely nothing more than a small slump, as they have actually shot the third highest percentage from the free throw line in the MAC this season, 72.2 percent.

Kent State has plenty of weapons on the offensive side of the floor with three players averaging double figures and two players averaging nine points per game. Kris Brewer and Derek Jackson are the top two scorers, averaging nearly 12 points a game each. Both Brewer and Jackson have been inconsistent at times, though. Brewer has been held under 10 points five times this season, and Jackson has been held in single figures six times.

With their win over the UNC Asheville Bulldogs, the Ohio Bobcats wrapped up their non-conference schedule. Despite a 10-3 record, Ohio was actually somewhat inconsistent in non-conference play.

At times, the Bobcats looked like a tournament team. Against Ohio State, they faced a double digit deficit for most of the game. However, Ohio clawed its way back into the game, eventually cutting the Buckeyes’ lead to only five points.

Hanging with one of the nation’s top teams is no easy task, but hanging with one of the nations’ top teams on the road after falling behind early is nearly impossible. That’s exactly what Ohio did, though. Ohio again impressed when it beat an 8-4 Richmond team in overtime on the road. The team erased a double-digit deficit in this game as well, but this time the ‘Cats were able to come out on top.

However, the Bobcats have also been puzzling and frustrating this season at times. They have played significantly worse on the road than they have at home this season. It took a last-second shot from Stevie Taylor to beat a Morgan State team that had not yet won a game when the two teams met and has since only won three games.

Ohio also came out inexplicably flat against in its game against Oakland. It shot poorly, played lackluster defense. The Bobcats’ empty performance translated into a 73-56 loss to a now 6-11 Oakland squad.

The non-conference schedule proved several things about the Bobcats. They respond to adversity well, which they showed against Ohio State and Richmond and again against UNC Asheville when they overcame a double-digit halftime deficit to win the game. It also demonstrated, though, that Ohio plays to the level of its competition, evidenced by the performances against Mercer and Oakland.

Playing to the level of its competition won’t be a problem for Ohio when it plays teams like Kent State and Toledo, two of the conference’s premier squads, but it could get the Bobcats in trouble when it plays struggling teams like Central Michigan and Miami.

Ohio will look to get off to a good start in MAC play Wednesday when it takes on Kent State at 7 p.m. at the Memorial Athletic and Convocation Center.