It doesn’t take an expert to see Ohio’s conference play, to this point, has not gone as planned.
The Bobcats (9-10, 2-5 Mid-American Conference) find themselves dead last in the MAC East with the midpoint of the conference schedule just one game away. They’ve lost ugly (twice by 25-plus) and they’ve lost narrowly (twice by three or fewer).
That said, Ohio has an opportunity for a turning point, or at least a starting point, Friday at 6:30 p.m. when it hosts MAC-leading Buffalo at The Convo.
The Bulls (15-5, 7-0 MAC) present Ohio’s most formidable foe dating back more than a month. They’ve won eight-straight and beaten all their conference opponents by double digits.
“They look as good on tape as any team I’ve seen in the MAC since I’ve been here,” fourth-year coach Saul Phillips said.
By no means are the Bobcats favored to win. But they’re in a sort of house money situation, so to speak.
Losing to Buffalo is expected. Everyone else in the MAC is doing it. Winning, however, could breathe new life into Ohio and give credibility to what the players believe they can do moving forward — in spite of what they’ve done so far.
“It’s set up perfectly,” guard Teyvion Kirk said. “This (potential) huge win right here could take everything to a new level, you know? Get us rolling.”
The Bulls are the ones currently rolling, as they boast the MAC’s top offense (83.6 points per game), which also ranks 24th in the nation. They carry a balanced attack with four scorers averaging 13-plus points per game.
One place Ohio may find success is at the free throw line, where the Bobcats are shooting 73 percent (third in the MAC). Buffalo commits more than 22 fouls per game, which is 336th (or, 16th-last) in NCAA Division I.
That is a trend for Buffalo that spans multiple seasons and has helped Ohio squeeze out tight wins. Last year, the Bobcats took 35 free throws in a two-point victory. The year before, they took 49 free throws in a seven-point overtime win.
Kirk, a freshman, wasn’t around for either of those but he’s one of the players the Bobcats will lean on to draw contact and take foul shots. He takes 5.7 free throws per game, which leads the team.
Free throws are only one facet of the game, but it’s a start. The Bobcats will need more to go right if they want to surprise the MAC and give Buffalo its first conference loss.
“It’s a great opportunity to change some things around in a hurry,” Phillips said. “And change the narrative of the season. But we’re going to have to play really, really well.”