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The Bobcats huddle before taking on Akron in the MAC Men's Bastketball Semifinals at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland, Ohio, Mar. 15, 2024.

Men's Basketball: Ohio's season was a positive step forward

For the vast majority of the 351 Division I college basketball teams, the season will end in defeat. While none of these endings are ideal, Ohio's was particularly bitter.

After seeing a 10-point halftime lead go by the wayside against No. 2 Akron, the MAC semifinal game was a bit of a missed opportunity for Ohio. While there was no guarantee that Ohio would prevail over No. 8 seed Kent State in the championship game, Ohio was as close to the MAC title as it has been since it won in 2021.

Close to the NCAA tournament didn't get the Bobcats into postseason play but it did signify a positive step for the program.

After a rocky finish in its nonconference schedule and an injury to star player AJ Brown, it didn't seem certain that Ohio would play in the MAC tournament, let alone have a chance to win it. Ohio's start to MAC play was worrisome, with three single-digit losses in its first four games.

The Bobcats stayed on the right path and bounced back by winning six of seven games. A close road loss to Toledo proved Ohio could play with the conference's toughest competition, and 11 days later, the team proved it could beat the toughest competition when it defeated Akron 74-67.

Ohio was not complacent with its win over Akron and won its last three games of the MAC tournament. Ohio looked dominant in its first-round game against Western Michigan before its devastating season-ending loss.

Even as a preseason favorite in the MAC coaches poll, the Bobcats had plenty of questions. For starters, Ohio was fielding a relatively young and exceedingly small frontcourt. By the end of the season, the question of how Ohio's frontcourt would play was more than answered.

Forward AJ Clayton continued his development as a shooter with 73 made 3-point jumpers, by far the most on the team, shooting at a very efficient 40.1% clip. Clayton became a formidable rim protector. Clayton's 58 blocks in the 2023-24 season were the second most in the conference and only two behind MAC Player of the Year Enrique Freeman.

Ohio saw substantial improvements from sophomores Aidan Hadaway and Ajay Sheldon, who more than doubled their scoring outputs from their freshmen seasons.

Hadaway stepped into a starting role after AJ Brown's injury and did so, scoring double digits 10 times throughout the season and 20 points twice.

Ohio's experienced backcourt, featuring players like Shereef Mitchell and Jaylin Hunter, was as reliable as one would expect. Mitchell and Hunter led Ohio with over 13 points a game, while Hunter led the entire conference with five assists per game.

Ohio will dearly miss Mitchell and Hunter, as the two seniors are likely to depart for graduation, but it will also hope to get healthier seasons out of guards Brown and Elmore James. As upperclassmen, Brown and James will expect to take leaps to become star players. Even with their improvement, don't be surprised to see Ohio look for a primary ball-handler in the transfer portal to go alongside James and Brown.

The biggest source of improvement for Ohio was its defense. In its first three losses in MAC play, the team gave up 86 points, 83 points and 81 points. By the end of the season, Ohio ranked second in points per game allowed.

The uneven second-half performance in the MAC semifinals from Ohio will be one that will linger with many of those involved but shouldn't ruin what was a very positive step forward for a 

program on the rise.


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