Men's Basketball: Bobcats hope to bounce back from previous defeats

Nick Kellogg goes for the layup against the Oakland Grizzlies at The Convo on Dec. 8. Kellog tallied 12 points, an assist, turnover, and steal during Ohio’s 78-61 win. (Jason Chow | Staff Photographer)

This past February, Ohio packed in a bus and headed toward Columbus, from which it turned onto U.S. Route 23 and trekked to the state’s northerly border to take on Toledo at its Savage Arena.

After leading by as much as 15 in the first half, the Bobcats allowed the Rockets to bully their way back and claim a four-point victory.

Although the Bobcats (12-5, 3-0 Mid-American Conference) bested the Rockets in the conference tournament in 2012, they will look to strike back Saturday at The Convo, and have plenty of motivation to do so. But don’t call it revenge. It’s just the task at hand for Ohio.

“It’s just the next game on the schedule, so that’s why we’re looking forward to it,” junior guard Nick Kellogg said. “It’s in front of our home crowd, so we’re going to be eager to get a ‘W.’ ”

Toledo (6-8, 2-1 MAC) returns three-fourths of the core that torched the Bobcats last season, the most potent of which being junior guard Rian Pearson.
The Rockets’ star shooting guard took over in the teams’ regular season meeting last year, scoring 18 points and pulling down two fewer rebounds in 37 minutes of action.

Backcourt mate Julius Brown, then a freshman, had 14 points, while forward Matt Smith contributed 18.

Both guards are back in full force this year, averaging a combined 33 points per game while shooting at a 43 percent clip, while Smith rounds out the Rockets’ trio of top scorers.

Ohio coach Jim Christian said the Bobcats will have to look out for Brown’s quickness off ball screens, and called Pearson one of the league’s “marquee players.”

“(Pearson is) a lot to handle,” Christian said. “He’s a high-energy player, he’s so active and scores it all kinds of ways — scores it off the dribble, (is) a great pull-up jump shooter and offensive rebounder. He is a hard matchup position-wise. Is he a two, three or four?”

No differently than how the Bobcats typically deal with top-notch talent, they will make a team commitment to limiting Pearson’s influence.

Kellogg, who will share the responsibility of doing so with redshirt senior guard Walter Offutt and others, said it is paramount for the Bobcats to keep Pearson off the boards and away from high-efficiency shots.

“Whoever is starting on him is going to have to do a good job, but it’s going to be all of us,” Kellogg said. “We always talk about guarding guys as a team, you know. We don’t like to leave guys on islands.”

As sound as the Rockets are on offense, they lack depth and aren’t exactly stingy on the other side of the ball.

Toledo’s bench players total less than 10 points per game, and its team defense ranks second-to-last in the MAC.

Christian said the Bobcats will have to bring their “A-game” after taking much of the second half off Wednesday against Northern Illinois.

“If we don’t, then (those) things bite you,” Christian said, after the 18-point win Wednesday. “Like I told (the team): feel great about the win, but we have a team coming in here Saturday that is a really good basketball team. And if we think we can just turn it on, you can’t.”

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