KALAMAZOO, Mich. — What matters most to Ohio is that it is 1-0 in the Mid-American Conference.
The Bobcats don’t like to look too far ahead in their season. They prefer to take their time and work step by step. In their 59-47 win over Western Michigan on Saturday, the Bobcats were focused on returning to the court after their winter break lasted longer than expected.
Ohio tried to keep itself occupied after its game against Eastern Michigan was postponed on Dec. 27. It hadn’t played a game in almost two weeks, and it was itching to begin its MAC schedule.
Ohio needed to wake up from winter break, and Western Michigan gave the call.
“It's tough to not play for 10 days and get your kind of game conditioning per se, when everything's been more intense and you're shooting at a different place and the speeds a little different,“ Ohio coach Jeff Boals said. “So we’ll just continue to rep it out and hope they go in.”
Jason Carter ended the night with 17 points, second only on the team to Mark Sears. The duo were the only two Bobcats to score in double figures and shoot 50% or better from the field. Carter and Sears are Ohio’s two highest scoring players this season, and they produce when Ohio needs them.
“Each it's night, it's gonna be something different,“ Carter said. “It's gonna take different players stepping up each and every night. If we’re all clicking, that’s great, but it happens when we’re not or that’s just where our matchups are. So we’re just gonna keep playing, keep preparing to win and keep focusing on that.”
Ohio (10-2, 1-0 MAC) was never out of control. It wrestled the lead away from Western Michigan (4-9, 0-2 MAC) three times and shot 36.4% from the field before halftime, but it never lost full control. Western Michigan's biggest lead on Saturday was three points. Ohio’s biggest lead was 14 points.
That’s not to say the Bobcats played to their standard.
From 3-point range, Ohio nearly blanked. It went 3-of-22 from beyond the arc Saturday, its worst performance of the season. Ohio didn’t make a 3-pointer until Ben Vander Plas sank his first shot of the night almost 12 minutes into the game.
It had a chance to recoup its struggles in the first half. After Tommy Schmock knocked down a shot from the half-court line to close the half, Ohio entered the break on a high. Instead of bouncing back from its inaccuracy beyond the arc, Ohio continued to miss open shots. It made just one 3-pointer in the second half.
“I thought we got great looks,“ Boals said. “Even in the second half I thought we got wide-open looks, and hopefully that's just a leg thing and kind of getting the conditioning back. We’ve got to keep executing and knocking those in because instead of winning by 12, now you win by 20-plus.”
The Bobcats didn’t get the first impression in the MAC that they could have. Western Michigan sits at the bottom of the conference standings and has the third-worst overall record. Ohio leads both categories. Saturday should have been a cruise for Ohio, but it didn’t pull away until midway through the second half.
Ohio was able to pull ahead thanks to Carter and Sears, but it won’t last against other top teams in the MAC with the shooting night it had. Ohio lives and dies by its 3-point shooters, and making 13.6% of its shots from beyond the arc won’t get it far in conference play.
The Bobcats may take the season game by game, but they need to fix their shooting in order to keep their winning streak going.