On Jan. 14, Antonio Campbell exited his last game as a Bobcat.
Campbell played just three minutes and finished the game as a bystander on crutches. Without him, the offense was non-existent. Jaaron Simmons scored just two points and the team shot 30 percent in a 53-49 loss to Eastern Michigan. It was Ohio's lowest offensive output of the season by 17 points.
Exactly one month later, Ohio will face that same Eastern Michigan team, but the Bobcats won't resemble the same team that hit the floor eight games ago. It's not even close.
“I remember that entire first half looking over into the tunnel, wondering when Tony was gonna be back," coach Saul Phillips said. "Then him not being able to come back, we didn’t play very well offensively against them. I am eager to try and execute better against that zone.”
In the team's worst offensive performance of the year, the Bobcats were stymied by the Eagles (13-12, 5-7 Mid-American Conference) zone defense, an aggressive 2-3 zone.
“We’ve got to get better ball movement, more reversals," Phillips said. "Dribbling up the court, you’re not gonna find a gap, so it’s gotta move a little bit. That means going inside on them, moving it from side to side."
But the Bobcats (15-8, 7-5 MAC) are more prepared than ever to face the zone that shut them down just a few weeks ago.
Since Campbell went out, Ohio started playing a more motion-based offense with greater emphasis on guard play, rather than the pick-and-roll offense it ran with Campbell.
“We’ve got to move the ball," Jason Carter said. "We were watching film, we found what our flaws were, found some movement type things. We’ve got to finish on more shots.”
Since the Eastern Michigan game, Ohio has averaged 81.75 points per game, good for second in the conference. But, the Bobcats have gone just 4-4 in that stretch.
That scoring will have to keep up if the Bobcats want to pierce the zone of the team and the game that nearly derailed their season.
“We’ve got to make sure we’re getting shots at the rim every time down, they’re pretty hard to score against with their length and their personnel," Phillips said. "Not only are you not getting a shot on your end, you’re giving them their most potent offense which is transition.”
A lot can change in a month and there's no better example of that than this particular Bobcats team. They've ran two different offenses had a change at center and put the team's hopes almost squarely on the point guard's shoulders.
"I’m getting more comfortable, I think we’ve finally found our thing offensively," Carter said. "We still have a little bit of work to do there still, but we’ve got our rotation going now, everyone is a lot more comfortable with each other.”
Tuesday night's matchup with Eastern Michigan might be just another game on the schedule, but for a team as battle-tested as Ohio, it offers a chance to see just how far this team has come.