No. 5 ‘Cats Face Long Road To MAC Title Game

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Two weeks ago, Ohio was sitting comfortably as the No. 4 seed in the 2014 Mid-American Conference Tournament. Fast-forward to the end of the regular season, and the picture has changed quite a bit for the Bobcats.

Coach Jim Christian’s squad has since fallen to the No. 5 seed due to a pair of ill-timed losses. After defeating Akron on the road, Ohio took control of its own destiny; it would possess the fourth seed if it won its final four games. However, the Bobcats dropped back-to-back games against Buffalo and Kent State at home.

Part of the team’s struggles can be attributed to the numerous injuries it has faced recently. Maurice Ndour has seen his minutes and effectiveness drop off due to a lingering back injury. Stevie Taylor is still slowed down by the leg fracture he suffered at Toledo. T.J. Hall has also played through a persistent hamstring injury.

Even with the injuries and disappointing losses, Ohio still heads into its first round matchup with Ball State (5-24, 2-16 MAC) on a positive note. The Bobcats recovered from their losses to Buffalo and Kent State by winning road games against Bowling Green and Miami to finish the regular season.

Those victories saw freshman forward Antonio Campbell post career highs in points in back-to-back games. Playing extra minutes because of Ndour’s back injury, Campbell scored 11 against Bowling Green and 13 against Miami.  

The Bobcats will need another strong performance from their big men Monday, as Ball State center Majok Majok is a force down low. The 6-foot-9, 220-pound senior is the only player in the MAC that averages a double-double with 11.1 points and 10.1 rebounds per game.

Luckily for Ohio, Ndour looked like himself again against Miami, showing the explosiveness that had been lacking in his last few games. Ndour, whose back injury had forced him to play from the perimeter and avoid the lane, aggressively attacked the rim against the Redhawks, totaling 15 points. 

Even with a 5-24 record, Ball State should not be taken lightly. The Cardinals have taken some of the top teams in the MAC down to the wire this season. Earlier this season Ball State hung with Toledo, trailing by only 2 points with 2:54 left, though the Cardinals eventually lost 80-73. On Feb. 26, Ball State took Western Michigan to overtime before falling 88-81.

Along with Majok, Ohio will also have to contend with forward Chris Bond and guard Zavier Turner. Bond leads the team in scoring, putting up 12.3 points per game to go along with six rebounds a game. Turner, a freshman, has proven that he has the ability to score, though he’s been inconsistent at times. He has failed to score in double digits 10 times and only shoots 38.5 percent from the field.

The key for Ohio Monday has nothing to do with Ball State and everything to do with the Green and White. Because the Bobcats are the fifth seed, they will have to win five games in six days to win the MAC Tournament.  With such a daunting task ahead of them, it would be easy for the Bobcats to overlook Ball State. If Ohio comes out ready to play, though, it stands a good chance to advance and head to Cleveland for the second round of the tournament.

Monday’s tip is set for 7 p.m. in the Convocation Center.