Ohio played an exhibition match against Otterbein on Thursday to unofficially begin its season in The Convo. Despite some ups and downs, Ohio was able to come away with a 67-49 victory that featured an impressive defense all around.
“I thought it was a good challenge for us,” Head Coach Jeff Boals said. “I thought that they ran some really good stuff … We had some guys who really hadn’t played a whole lot … it was good to get those guys some minutes and some reps. We’re excited to start the year.”
It was a sluggish start to the game for Ohio, both on offense and defense. By the game's first media timeout, Ohio held a slim lead of 7-5 after 5 minutes of play.
“Sometimes early, we’re trying to do a little too much individually instead of moving the defense around,” Boals said. “We preach ball reversals and paint touches. That’s another piece of our DNA that we really lock in on every practice and every game … I thought we didn’t do that early.”
With 2:17 to play in the half, Ohio still held its steady lead with a score of 32-27. In the final 2 minutes of the half, the game saw its first real stretch of dominance from either team with a 7-0 run for Ohio.
“When we made a run, it was defense,” Boals said. “I thought Jaylen and Shareef were really good defensively. It was a three-point game with however much time to go and we closed out (defensively) and got up 12 at halftime.”
At the half, Ohio held a 39-27 lead and, despite a slow start offensively, looked as if it had found the momentum that it was looking for all game.
“In the beginning, it’s all jitters, (because it’s the) first game in front of the fans,” AJ Brown said. “We just have to get going and really stick to our game. What the coaches tell us in the locker room is that they’re a nameless and faceless opponent, so respect them and play your game so you don’t have to go out there and start off slow and then pick it up at the end. I think that that’s a big thing we have to work on, just our preparation and staying in the moment.”
To start the half, Ohio once again looked a bit sluggish, allowing Otterbein to keep the deficit where it was without running away with the game. The two traded baskets for the first several minutes of the second half; Ohio had only outscored Otterbein 13-11 to start off the period.
That was all until the Ohio offense once again went on a run, this one, a 9-point run, that would end up being the longest of the game on either side.
After the 9-0 run by Ohio, the team sat with a comfortable 19-point lead in the later half of the second period.
New to the team after transferring from Creighton, Shereef Mitchell played a large part in not only the offensive scoring–of which he had 8 points–but also defensively, with a tie for a team-high two steals. Mitchell seemed to make an impact on most of Otterbein’s defensive drives in the second half.
“It was truly a blessing,” Mitchell said. “I’m so happy to be here with these guys and I feel so fitted in … Getting to know these guys and growing with them and starting to build that team chemistry, it’s been great ... and I’m happy to continue this journey with this group.”
Veteran guard Jaylin Hunter led the Bobcats in scoring on the night with 13 points and also tallied a team-leading 3 assists.
Ohio’s team will look a bit different this year compared to last. Ohio’s leading scorer, Dwight Wilson, is no longer with the team after graduating at the conclusion of last season. Wilson provided the team with a dominant force in the paint last season that the team may lack this year. Ohio’s lineup to start the game consisted of four guards, making it one of the smaller lineups the team has put forth in recent memory.
“When you play those (smaller) guys, you’re going to give up something but you’re going to get something out of it,” Boals said. “There’s times in practice where Elmore James, Jaylin Hunter, Miles Brown and Shareef (Mitchell) are all elite on-ball defenders. So when you play smaller, you have to press up more and use your quickness to your advantage. I thought we were able to disrupt their offense.”
Ohio will play differently this season, trying to focus more on driving into the paint and kicking the ball out for a shot rather than beating teams down low with a dominant, big man. However, shooting versus Otterbein was a struggle for Ohio, converting on only 37.7% of its shots from the field and an even worse 18.5% from the three-point line.
“We have a lot to learn from and show them on film,” Boals said. “Offensively, when we got our stops in transition, I thought we were really good in transition … just trying to create offense from our defense. I was a little disappointed in our shooting; we were 5 for 27. Obviously, that is too low, but we’ll have to look and see where the shots came from and what they were like.”