Ben Vander Plas took the ball on the low block and, with it in his left hand, cocked it back and touched it off the glass to fall through the hoop.
Jason Preston dribbled his way from half-court through a clear lane for an easy layup.
Ben Roderick stepped up into the top of the key and jumped for a solid mid-range bucket.
Jordan Dartis didn’t even think when he caught and shot the ball from beyond-the-arc and swished 3-pointer after 3-pointer.
Miles Brown dished out the ball to his open teammates and forced consecutive stops time and time again.
These five players — all with different skill sets, roles, attitudes and perceptions on the game — flowed and blended together in Ohio’s second consecutive Mid-American Conference win, this one a 73-61 victory over Western Michigan.
The Bobcats, over the last four days, have found different ways to win their two games, but they might have found what they’ve been craving all season.
The buzz word, tossed around much like the ball they use day in and day out, showed itself in Tuesday night’s win over the Broncos as Ohio’s “small-ball” lineup showcased its effectiveness.
“Small-ball,” meaning the five players on the floor who traditionally don’t play in roles where taller players are located on the court, had its advantages over Western Michigan, and the versatility of Ohio’s small-ball lineup was there.
Vander Plas was the Bobcats’ biggest player on the court despite being only the fourth tallest guy on the team at 6-foot-8-inches. The aforementioned players are no taller than 6-foot-5 and played against a Broncos squad that averaged just a bit taller than that.
The effectiveness in Ohio’s smaller lineup is simple. Smaller, faster guys on the court space it out and force opponents who have bigger players to play in large areas on the court where they might not be as comfortable. For the Bobcats, all five that line up can shoot the ball effectively. Vander Plas’ ability to play in the paint gives Ohio valuable possessions down low. Preston’s ability to drive down the lane and make the ticky-tacky shots off the glass gave Ohio the points it needed.
It’s a lineup that’s still relatively infant – it was first rolled out just four games ago against Northern Illinois – but it’s a lineup that’s starting to give Ohio success.
“It’s something that we’ve been doing a little more lately, just getting a lot of guys back healthy,” Vander Plas said. “I think it just opens up the floor on offense for us, it gives us better driving lanes for (Preston), and also it lets us come out there and pressure the ball with a bunch of good perimeter defenders.”
Those driving lanes were apparent through the spacing as Preston finished with 21 points on 17 shots. The sophomore notched a double-double Tuesday with 11 rebounds and continued his strong second-year campaign after posting a triple-double on Saturday.
The numbers are nice, sure, but they haven’t been happening by accident.
“I think it’s really on defense,” Preston said. “We get after it on defense and get a lot of easy buckets in transition.”
The Bobcats’ defense held the Broncos to 40.7% from the field, slightly below their season average of 43%. Several times on defense, Ohio forced shot clock violations or near-violations that led to forced shots and defensive rebounds for Ohio.
Unlike the two teams’ first game this season, where the Bobcats were injured and missed plenty of open looks offensively, the nine games it has since played forced the young roster to grow up a little.
It’s that growth where coach Jeff Boals has seen his players fall into their stride and earn confidence in their ability to play the game.
“We’re getting better,” Boals said. “I think...what you want to do this time of year is to continue getting better. We were a different team when we played them game one.”
For the first time since the 2016-17 season, the Bobcats have the opportunity to win three consecutive conference games when it plays Kent State on Saturday. The intangible difference-maker for them in the early goings of the post-bye stretch has been energy.
Players are loose during warm-ups, smiling and laughing on the court. Boals said he cranked up the music in the locker room before the game started and pumped his chest twice after his pre-game speech.
It’s those intangibles that carry a young and inexperienced team, such as this one, to achieve tangible success and that’s what Ohio is experiencing now.