As Ohio jumped out to a nine-point lead against Ball State, a glimpse of the Bobcats’ true talent flashed throughout Quicken Loans Arena.
The other side of the Bobcats was then revealed as Ohio proceeded to blow the lead with 3:12 left. The defensive mistakes committed during Randy Davis’ 3-pointer and Chris Bonds’ two layups showed the deficiencies that held Ohio back all season.
Ohio’s final 19-16 record reflected both aspects. The Bobcats possessed superb offensive ability and young talent but struggled to play consistently on the other end.
For a team in which underclassmen made up three-fourths of the rotation, the final result shouldn’t be looked at as disappointment, coach John Groce said.
“In the three years I’ve been here, I feel like this team of all my teams reached its potential,” Groce said Wednesday in his end-of-the-season news conference. “You look at the stat sheet and realize out of eight of the top minutes guys, six of them were freshmen or sophomores.”
The season began with hopes of emulating the late-season success of 2009–10, which culminated in a Mid-American Conference title and NCAA tournament win against Georgetown. Early non-conference losses to Oakland, Marshall and Robert Morris, however, brought Ohio back from its euphoria.
The beginning of the year showed Ohio’s struggles to replace former shooting guard Armon Bassett as the Bobcats searched to fill the void left by last season’s leading scorer.
The Bobcats searched for their identity during the start of MAC play even though coaches and media predicted the team to win the conference in the preseason.
Although the Bobcats played valiantly in a triple-overtime loss to Miami, the close defeat in the MAC opener signaled the upcoming troubles in Ohio’s first round of games against division opponents.
“Some of the games we would have like to have won early,” Groce said. “To be quite honest with you, looking back, I don’t know if we were ready.”
After defeating Akron, Ohio lost to Bowling Green and Buffalo. A blown 17-point halftime lead against the Bulls became the peak of Ohio’s frustrations. As time ran out, the Bobcats trudged toward their bench, heads down, wondering what had just happened.
Senior captain Tommy Freeman called for a change after the Jan. 22 loss, and the team responded with its best basketball of the season.
“Our captains and DeVaughn (Washington) did a good job turning things around with these guys,” Groce said. “…They learned to play for the name on the front of the jersey than what’s on the back. That’s really bigger than any X’s and O’s thing.”
Another late-season run looked possible for Ohio after the Bobcats finished the season 9-3. Washington along with underclassmen Ivo Baltic and Nick Kellogg emerged at D.J. Cooper’s side for help. The Bobcats finished with five players averaging at least 10 points a game during MAC play.
Despite the offensive prowess, Groce would have liked to see the team play more consistent defense throughout the season.
“People can say, ‘Well, yeah coach, you guys were first or second in most offensive categories,’” Groce said. “Yeah, that’s good, but teams that have a chance to do special things at the end of the day consistently play defense.”
Ohio entered the MAC Tournament as the fifth-seed in a wide-open field of teams. But the collapse against Ball State in the quarterfinals quashed the chances. After the loss, Ohio took an invitation to the Collegeinsider.com Tournament, where it lost in the quarterfinals to East Tennessee State after a win against Marshall.
With the season finished, Groce said he is excited to develop the underclassmen that played such key roles in the season.
“I’m looking forward to coaching some juniors and some older guys,” Groce said. “We might not have any seniors, but they’re older and guys that have played pretty regularly for us.”