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Freshman forward Doug Taylor goes up for a shot during Ohio's game against Northern Illinois University at The Convo on Feb. 6. Now a sophomore, Taylor is expected to be part of a "one-two punch" with freshman forward Jason Carter now that senior Antonio Campbell is out for the season. (FILE) 

Men's Basketball Column: What to expect the rest of the Bobcats' season

Ohio has flipped the switch in its previous six contests. 

Ohio just played its best six-game stretch of the season, smack in the middle of its Mid-American Conference schedule.

Coming off a 94-75 win at Buffalo Friday, Ohio has won five games during a six-game span. Its only loss in that timeframe was against Akron — the first-place team in the MAC.

The run would be impressive for any team, but for the Bobcats, it was essential to staying competitive within the MAC. They started MAC play with just a 2-4 record and were sitting near the bottom of the MAC East division standings.

So, after six games of futility followed by six games of prosperity, how will Ohio’s final six games turn out?

To answer that, one has to figure out what Ohio has been able to turn around in its past six games. Ohio was able to pull off a complete role-reversal, going from being outscored 78-73 points per game in its first six MAC games to outscoring its opponents, on average, 78 to 72 points per game the previous six.

While knocking off nearly six points per game defensively is an improvement, more important is how Ohio’s opponents are getting those points and when.

The first four games of the conference season were a disaster for the Bobcats in terms of their perimeter defense. Opponents were converting on about 47 percent of their 3-point attempts.

Since then, Ohio coach Saul Phillips has inspired a dramatic change. In the past eight games, Ohio has held opponents to just a 27 percent 3-point percentage — the same mark that currently has Akron sitting comfortably atop the MAC.

Another big boost for the Bobcats has been the heightened involvement of junior Antonio Campbell on the floor. Campbell’s play has been crucial to Ohio's success all season; it was simply a matter of how long it could keep him on the court.

At the beginning of MAC season, opponents were able to get Campbell into foul trouble, exploiting the forward’s mistakes and making it difficult for him to be as much of a factor.

It’s no coincidence, then, that as the Bobcats have hit their stride, so has Campbell. He’s gone from averaging 26 minutes per game in the first six games of conference play to 30 minutes in the last six. Unsurprisingly, those extra four to five minutes per game have been huge for his production, as he’s gone from averaging 17 points and nine rebounds per contest to posting 21 points and 10 rebounds over the last six games.

"I just felt pretty good," Campbell said after Ohio's win over Buffalo. "I played good last game against Ball State, and I think it carried over into practice and carried over into this game."

The past three weeks of the season have been critical for Ohio’s season, but the next three weeks will be even more important. The Bobcats currently sit in a three-way tie for second place in the MAC East, and would likely be looking at a fourth or fifth seed if the MAC tournament started today. 

The way Ohio has looked lately, though, the rest of the season could be a major launching pad toward better positioning in the tournament. Of the last six games, four of those come against Miami, Bowling Green and Eastern Michigan, all of whom sit either second-to-last or last in their respective divisions.

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The other two of those games are against Buffalo, who Ohio just dominated on the road Friday night, in The Convo and Akron, whose vicious 3-point attack the Bobcats were able to stifle two weeks ago in the Convo despite taking a loss.

At this point in the season, it wouldn’t be fair to say that Ohio controls its own destiny going forward. From where this team was three weeks ago, however, it certainly sits in a better spot than one may have previously hoped for.

@_TonyWolfe_

aw987712@ohio.edu

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