Gabby Burris walked to the free-throw line during the second quarter on Saturday at The Convo and put her hands on her knees. Her face was sweaty and her shoulders went up, and then down when she took a deep breath as the referee bounced her the ball.
Burris was gassed, but it didn’t matter. She swished the free throw and jogged back to play defense even though she was still panting from the two layup attempts she fought for before drawing the foul.
The sequence was a microcosm of Burris’ versatility and endurance, the two keys she’s used to become the Swiss Army Knife of Ohio’s surging offensive attack. The sophomore can shoot from anywhere on the floor, devour minutes from the forward position and set a tempo that’s contagious to each player.
But it comes at a cost, albeit one she can deal with — energy.
"My parents always tell me I look so tired from the stands,” Burris said. “I bet I do look tired, but I feel like I never really feel tired. I never think about it, but I know afterwards that I am so tired."
Burris’ versatility is a prime reason why she leads Ohio with 32.3 minutes per game. Coach Bob Boldon needs her to run the offense, and her ability to find flaws in the opponent’s defense sets up not only herself, but her teammates for shooting opportunities.
Saturday was the perfect example. Ohio headed into the locker room trailing 31-30 to Cleveland State. It was the Bobcats’ first halftime deficit of the season, and their offense had yet to pick them up like it had in their previous six games.
The Vikings began the third quarter with possession. But 14 seconds later, Burris stole the ball, ran through Cleveland State’s defense and created space for a pass to Dominique Doseck trailing behind her.
Doseck sunk a 3-pointer, and the Bobcats kept the lead the rest of the game. It was a small example of Burris boosting the rhythm of Ohio’s offense for a 72-54 win.
“She's been instrumental in everything that we do,” Boldon said. “She didn't not have a very good shooting day, but it seems like every time we get these fancy stat sheets, her plus-minus (number) is near the top. She affects the game in a lot of ways. She does a great job of running the floor, and she gets down the floor and puts a lot of pressure on people.”
Burris may not have had the best shooting performance Saturday, but she kept alive some of the most notable statistical trends that highlight how crucial she’s been to Ohio’s undefeated start to its season.
She’s hit double-digit points in all but one game, has averaged 1.6 turnovers per game — second among Ohio’s typical starters — and has only missed three free throws in 28 attempts. When one aspect of her game isn’t working, she can turn to another that still makes her effective and ensures the offense will never creep into a prolonged lull.
And that’s why Boldon has rewarded her with minutes.
“It's hard to statistically qualify the things that Gabby does for us," Boldon said. “Her ability to score at different levels — offensive rebounds, stick backs, running the floor, driving from the key — she does a lot of different things. Her versatility is very valuable to us."
It’ll be interesting to see if Burris, who averaged a small but still sizable 25.5 minutes per game as a freshman, will keep up with the increased playing time.
But don’t worry. If she does feel fatigued, she’ll just try to get back to the free-throw line, where she’s rarely missed from all season and can finally take a breather.
“I know (I look tired),” Burris said with a laugh. “I'm like, 'Oh my God, a break.'"