If you look at the four losses in the Bobcats’ Mid-American Conference record, you wouldn’t be surprised at who they came from.
Ohio has suffered two home defeats by Bowling Green and Toledo and a pair of road losses at Western Michigan and Buffalo. All four of those teams received high praise at the start of the season from the MAC coaches’ poll with three of the four teams receiving votes to be conference champions.
All four of those games were different, but all had a commonality: Ohio had more than its fair share of chances to win them.
Let’s start with Western Michigan, the Bobcats’ MAC opener. Ohio started the game off allowing the Broncos to go on a 12-0 run, then it climbed onto a 18-16 lead with 6:58 left in the first half. It was the last lead they had in a game that ended up as a 12-point loss.
Bowling Green visited The Convo on Jan. 11, and as the preseason favorites to win the MAC, the Falcons certainly didn’t show it in the first half. Ohio took advantage of that, and its more experienced players in Ben Vander Plas and Jordan Dartis seized the opportunity.
The two combined for 25 points — led by Vander Plas’ 19 — and shot a combined 64% from the field. More impressively, Vander Plas went 5-for-6 on 3-pointers. The Bobcats’ 10-point lead at halftime showed a lot of promise and a lot of potential.
Then the second half happened. They couldn’t replicate the same performance on both ends of the floor. The Falcons’ 50 second-half points gave Ohio its second conference loss, this one by nine.
Buffalo was similar to Bowling Green: a strong first half and then an absent second half. The Bulls, too, scored 50 in the second half, marking another Ohio loss, this one by three.
And then Tuesday night, the Bobcats played a roughly six-to-seven minute span of great basketball in the first half against a seasoned Toledo team but went on to lose by nine.
All of these moments are starting to add up. The highs, the lows and the middles of a program that, to avoid the cliche, is in the midst of a facelift, have been the difference between two wins in the MAC compared to four or five.
“We’re close,” coach Jeff Boals said following the Bobcats’ 83-74 loss to Toledo. “A few possessions here and there, and you’re not 2-4; you’re 5-1. It’s a matter of being consistent.”
With such a young team and for many players getting their first taste of not only mid-major basketball, but one of the more even-keeled conferences in mid-major basketball, Ohio’s constant right now is the inconsistency.
Too many times the Bobcats have relied on one player to get the job done, whether it be Vander Plas, Dartis or Jason Preston. Against the Rockets, Vander Plas fouled out, Dartis only had eight points in 31 minutes and Preston was the lone starter to have an impact.
The sophomore point guard had 27 points, but it took 21 shots to get there. Where the Bobcats received help against Toledo was their bench, who for the first time all season, has been healthy.
Freshman Ben Roderick scored 11 points, and Miles Brown had six points and made key defensive stops in his nine minutes of game time as Ohio was trying to find life in the game. Two weeks ago when it opened up its MAC schedule at Western Michigan, the bench combined for 16 points. Against the Rockets, it scored 26 points.
While the Bobcats are making the strides necessary to set up success long-term, the short term effects are starting to present themselves, too — even if the close losses are starting to show on the marquee faces of the program.
“We’re learning,” Preston said. “It’s good to get these close losses out now, but our spirits are good, and we’re just going to keep learning.”
There are plenty of lessons learned from these first six conference games. There will be more lessons in the coming months once it wraps up the season, but these lessons aren’t what define a team with a first-year head coach and seven freshmen.
The lessons from this season will go on to serve as review points for when those freshmen turn into sophomores, juniors and then seniors. For when they are down early and can rally back. For when they are up by 10 at halftime, and instead of losing by nine, they have a win.
For the Bobcats (10-9, 2-4 MAC), it’s just growing pains, and it will be, but it’s building toward something that only those within the program can see.