Amani Burke sat back in her seat in the first row of The Convo before practice Tuesday. The junior guard was at ease, and she had every reason to be — Ohio’s 5-0 and has blown out every opponent it’s faced to begin its season.
Everything was fine for Burke and the Bobcats. Their offense, however, has been more than fine.
It’s been fantastic, and it’s tied for 12th in the nation in points per game (87.6), ranks 11th in field goal percentage (49.5 percent) and is in the top 50 for a few other offensive categories.
But Burke and the rest of her team didn’t know that. Nearly every Ohio starter has averaged 11 or more points per game in the small but telling sample size of games. Most players aren’t aware of how great the offense has been in the scope of every other NCAA Division I team.
“I didn't know offensively how well we were doing,” Burke said. “Our coaches point out our turnovers, or if we're losing and rebounding. We don't really talk about offense that much."
Well, it’s worked. With nearly half of their nonconference schedule complete, the Bobcats have lived, and never died, by their offense. Multiple players — whether it’s Burke, Cece Hooks, Dominique Doseck or Gabby Burris — have stepped up each game to basically secure Ohio a victory once the fourth quarter begins.
“We have five players on the floor at all times who can shoot, drive or do both,” Burke said. “Our scoring definitely comes from our ability to move the ball and just share. We're very team-oriented. From our offense to our defense, it’s all about us needing everyone.”
Ohio’s had four or more players reach double-digit point totals in four of its five games. Its lowest single-game free throw percentage was 60 percent against Binghamton on Nov. 15. The Bobcats shot 80 percent (29-for-36) from the free-throw line in its last game against Lamar. Ohio’s 3-point percentage this season is a solid 38 percent, up eight percent from last season.
The Bobcats’ biggest offensive key has been passing the ball. Coach Bob Boldon wants his players to make quick decisions when they have possession. It stretches and confuses the opponent’s defense and opens quality shot opportunities. It’s perhaps the biggest reason why so many players have placed big numbers in the box scores.
“Pretty much the biggest thing is just moving the ball,” assistant coach Steph Haas said. “We don't like to have the ball in one person's hand for too long. Just moving the ball, sharing the ball and being unselfish."
Compare the Bobcats’ offensive stats to last season, and their sizzling start looks even more impressive. Ohio was ninth in the Mid-American Conference in scoring last season and finished in the bottom half of nearly every offensive category.
So, after the Bobcats 100-60 on Nov. 18 for their biggest home victory since 1999, the soft-spoken Boldon admitted he was surprised at his offense’s production.
“I didn’t think we would be quite this efficient,” Boldon said.
He likely isn’t raising his hopes up for season-long dominance from his offense.
It’s actually realistic to expect Ohio’s offense to regress in its next four games. The Bobcats will probably perform well Saturday against Cleveland State and its defense, which has allowed an average of 70 points per game — but their next three games appear to be taller tests.
On Wednesday, Ohio will host Purdue in The Convo. It’s the Bobcats’ only matchup with a Power Five school this season. The Boilermakers’ defense, which allowed 86 points against UConn last Saturday, has averaged just 60 points against per game.
The Bobcats will play Coppin State on Dec. 8 before traveling to IUPUI, which has allowed 58 points per game, on Dec. 16.
If Ohio’s offense is legit, then those three games should be easy, and the team could head into MAC play in January with just a loss or two.
But if it regresses, the Bobcats’ record could be closer to mediocre, and they’ll almost certainly have to talk more about their offense than they have in November.