Defense has never been Ohio’s strong suit. Ohio coach Bob Boldon even recognized that in the Mid-American Conference preseason press conference. Its inability to consistently guard opponents has left it with several tough losses.
The story was the same Wednesday night when Ohio lost to Toledo 76-73 inside The Convo.
It was not the Bobcats' inability to score that kept them from winning. It was their lack of proper guarding. Before the half, Toledo shot 30% from the floor and was 2-of-13 from beyond the arc. The Bobcats had no issues from beyond the arc or in the paint. While not an exceptional night, Ohio shot well before the break and walked to the locker room with an 11-point lead.
That was before the Bobcats lost hold on Sophia Wiard.
Wiard only scored eight points in the first half, but she found her way to the basket after halftime. She played smart and found the gaps on the court to tack on another 18 points for the Rockets. Her renewed energy changed the course of the game.
Ohio left Wiard wide open, and she broke out in the third quarter. She was 6-of-7 from the floor, and five of her field goals came from beyond the arc. Her most important 3-pointer came with three seconds remaining in the third quarter. Wiard found the net and gave Toledo its first lead of the night.
“(Wiard) did a good job of finding shots. I thought (the Rockets) did a good job of finding her, and they moved the ball,” Boldon said.
Ohio’s lackluster defense mixed with Wiard’s impressive outing led to Toledo usurping the lead and humiliating Ohio on its own floor. Part of the issue was the Bobcats were afraid to get in the Rockets’ space. Cece Hooks and Kate Dennis entered foul trouble, and Yaya Felder fouled out entirely. The Bobcats could not afford to lose anyone else in the second half.
When Felder went out midway through the fourth quarter, the Bobcats weren’t able to utilize the full-court press as effectively. But it wasn’t just that which gave the Rockets an edge. Toledo’s 3-point shooting surged in the second half. It went from shooting 15.3% in the first half to 56.3% after halftime. Wiard may have been the catalyst, but she wasn’t the only one Ohio left open.
“When you give good teams good shots, they make them,” Boldon said. “That’s true whether they’re a good team, an average team or a great team.”
Toledo has the best free throw percentage in the MAC, but it’s fourth for scoring offense. What it has that Ohio doesn’t is defense. Its opponents have the lowest field goal percentage and second-lowest 3-point percentage in the conference. Toledo is also ranked second for team defensive rebounds.
Ohio knows defense is its primary issue, but it has done minimal work to find a solution. Just when the Bobcats begin climbing the defensive mountain, they slip right back down to the bottom.
The Bobcats are a broken record on defense, and it’s going to cost them a spot in the MAC Tournament.