The Bobcats didn’t know where they would land in the Mid-American Conference after the clock struck zero in their 92-78 blowout win over Miami. Their fate rested in the hands of Ball State, who needed to beat Western Michigan in Kalamazoo, Michigan, to secure Ohio’s first-round bye.
Ohio still didn’t know when it would play next after four quarters in that game, either. But after an overtime that included a six-point comeback, the Cardinals beat the Broncos and sent Ohio straight to Cleveland.
The bye was all the Bobcats wanted after a brutal four-game losing streak that put the potential easiness of their postseason in jeopardy.
“That’s probably the biggest frustration, that we weren’t able to secure that when it looked like it was going to be a forgone conclusion,” coach Bob Boldon said before Saturday’s game. “Playing this game for a bye is just as frustrating as not winning the league to me. It was disappointing, but if we don’t get the bye, I don’t think that game Saturday matters at all.”
The game on Saturday may have ended up being one of the most important games of the season for Ohio. The Bobcats came out wanting to send a message and did so in the domination over their rival.
“I think today we made a statement,” Amani Burke said. “Not only to those watching us, but to ourselves, we’re figuring it out. It’s literally been an uphill battle this whole season.”
Ohio had huge expectations coming into this season. The Bobcats were picked to win the MAC, and they looked like they could for most of the season until the four-game losing streak halted their progress to a near-stop.
Now that it’s March, Ohio has another opportunity to show the rest of the MAC why they were picked to win it all this season.
“I think the biggest thing was just the idea that the tournament is finally here,” Boldon said. “It was kind of a newfound joy and excitement about playing and a new perspective about trying to get better in practice. Although we practiced for a very short time this week, there was intention to try to do things better.”
The largest issue Ohio had in its four-game stretch was its defense. It gave up over 76 points per game during the skid and just couldn’t score enough points to keep up.
“I think that’s the reason why we’ve been losing, is because our defense hasn’t been in sync,” Burke said. “I think we have spurts, but I came into the game, and I was just like, ‘try to be consistent on defense and focus on that.’”
Burke was a big part of Ohio’s defensive turnaround. She recorded four steals Saturday.
The Bobcats will have three full days of rest before the tournament to try to continue to solve their problems on defense. On Wednesday, it will face the winner of Western Michigan and Bowling Green. Both of those teams beat Ohio this season, and it is looking forward to revenge no matter who it plays.
“All of the above,” said Gabby Burris, who scored her 1,00th point Saturday. “Back to BG and Central (Michigan).”
Ohio took a huge loss to the Falcons during its losing streak, and if it can make it past the first round, it will likely see the Chippewas. Central Michigan is the team the Bobcats have been wanting to beat all season — they’ve lost to the Chippewas by two points in each of their two games.
The Bobcats will be waiting for whoever comes forward in the quarterfinals of the MAC Tournament on Wednesday in Cleveland. If they win, they will play again in the semifinals, likely against their West Division rival Central Michigan on Friday.