If Ohio has proven one thing this season, it's that its defense is one of the best in the country.
For most of the season, the Bobcats have been ranked either first or second in the nation for turnover margin. The Bobcats are currently No. 2; their quickness and ability to read passing lanes on the perimeter has helped them obtain that top two ranking. The Bobcats force an average of 24.4 turnovers a game.
When they force 24 or more turnovers in a game, they’re 7-1. But when the Bobcats only hold teams to 23 or fewer turnovers, they’re 2-7. The only loss with more turnovers was to Buffalo, when Ohio lost 67-63 on Wednesday at home.
One of the wins with few turnovers came on the road against Western Michigan last Saturday, when freshman guard Cierra Hooks scored a career-high 22 points. And the other win was at home against Toledo on Dec. 31, when junior guard Dominique Doseck scored a career-high 27 points.
Aside from Doseck’s career game, the Bobcats also rebounded the ball well. Both the Bobcats and Rockets had 37 rebounds, so the Bobcats competed in a category they usually don’t perform well in. They’re ranked last in the Mid-American Conference for rebounds per game.
Hooks and Doseck are the only two players who have scored 20 or more points in a game this season.
But crediting the wins solely to Hooks' and Doseck's performances wouldn’t encapsulate the entire picture of how Ohio won those two games, even if it didn’t force its average number of turnovers.
The Bobcats' offense has improved since the beginning of the season. Further, to see how the Bobcats have won games without forcing as many turnovers as it has in the past, it’s important to understand Ohio’s offensive growth.
As Ohio went through non-conference play, its defense was its best quality. The Bobcats hadn’t found their offense yet.
Before Ohio played Purdue on Dec. 10, coach Bob Boldon acknowledged that his team’s defense was a significant factor.
“I think (our defense is) probably the sole reason we have any wins," Boldon said.
Boldon also said at the time that the Bobcats’ defense had slipped a bit. But that’s because they were working on improving an offense that had only shot 40 percent or above from the field once before the Purdue game. When Ohio beat Notre Dame College at home Nov. 16, it shot 43.2 percent from the field.
The Purdue game marked a shift, though.
Ohio beat Purdue on the road, and at the time, it was the team’s best game of the season. It arguably still is.
But that’s because while the Bobcats forced the Boilermakers to commit 33 turnovers, which remains the most turnovers the Boilermakers have committed this season, the Bobcats had their best shooting game of the season. They shot a season-high 62.5 percent from three. They haven’t shot better from deep since.
Hooks and Doseck have been leaders on the defensive end this season, along with redshirt senior guard Taylor Agler. All are in the top three for steals per game on the team, with Hooks at No. 1 (2.9).
With her lateral quickness, Hooks can beat players to a spot easily. And when she does, she’s good at ripping the ball away from players’ hands.
“We have a really great defender in (Hooks), and I think she pushes the envelope on defense,” Agler said before Ohio played IUPUI earlier in the season. “I think she’s the leader of that.”
Agler said that before the season began, Ohio didn’t expect to be a good defensive team. The Bobcats had five freshmen coming in. Agler also said that Boldon’s defensive rotations are hard to learn.
“Most kids are used to playing zone (defense) at least half the game their whole life,” Agler said before the IUPUI game. “And coach Bob and his staff, they don’t believe in zone. We have to play man-to-man.”
Both defenses require much communication. Players need to tell teammates where to be, but a man defense is different. Telling teammates to switch on pick and rolls is important because if a switch isn’t executed correctly, then an easy bucket at the rim or an open jump shot, could result.
The Bobcats are 17 games into the season, and they’ve cemented a spot as one of the best defenses in the MAC. Despite a lack of size, the Bobcats’ perimeter defense is difficult to attack, what with the team’s point guards – Hooks, Doseck and Agler – forcing players to make bad decisions.
Still, if the Bobcats play good defense, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to shoot well. They’re ranked last in the MAC for field goal percentage and 3-point field goal percentage.
Playing good defense merely provides the Bobcats a chance to compete on offense, which in turn allows them a chance to compete in every game.
And if they play exceptionally well on that end, then they’re most likely winning games.