The Bobcats will have a specific purpose over the next five weeks as they enjoy an extended run of home games.
Ohio needs depth, and finding some will be a big part of the ‘Cats’ next five games — all at home in the Convocation Center — that cover the entire month of December.
The Bobcats (5-3) continue the six-game homestead on Wednesday with a 7 p.m. start against non-DI opponent Rio Grande. First-year head coach Jeff Boals said finding depth on the wings is now a priority, and you’ll likely see him experiment with options there against the Red Storm (6-4).
“We need to figure out who’s going to be that backup 3, backup 4,” Boals said Thursday. “Kind of give those guys some reps. Hopefully we can do it. We need to do it.”
Through eight games, Ohio was already shaping up to be one of the thinnest teams — in terms of bench minutes — in the Mid-American Conference. The Bobcats have four starters who all rank in the top 13 of minutes played in the conference.
Sophomore PG Jason Preston (37.47 minutes per game) and senior guard Jordan Dartis (34.74) rank first and second in the MAC in minutes played per game. Sophomore forward Ben Vander Plas (31.58) is ninth. Freshman guard Lunden McDay (30.55) is 13th.
Ohio seemed to be developing a key bench piece over the last two weeks with freshman wing Ben Roderick. The 6-5 guard/forward — the 2019 Gatorade Player of the Year in Ohio as a high schooler — was leading OU with 6.0 points and 15.4 minutes per game off the bench.
But Roderick will be out of action for a while. Boals said Tuesday that Roderick will have surgery on a broken hand, sustained in Saturday’s home win over Detroit Mercy.
“(It’s) indefinite,” Boals said. “It’s unlucky. Put his hand in there somewhere and jammed it. Didn’t even really know how he did it.”
Roderick started the season sidelined with a knee injury, came back to earn a rotation spot, and now will be shelved for weeks.
“He’s a big part of what we’re going to do. I just feel bad for him as a person,” Boals said.
“But we’ve been in this situation before. It has to be next man up and we have to kind of piece it together.”
So what pieces does have Ohio have to fill Roderick’s role, and add more depth?
Junior wing Connor Murrell, a 6-7 wing who came on at the end of last season, was thought to be a rotational player this season but has yet to appear in a game as he deals with an abdomen injury. Boals said Murrell likely won’t be available for practice for another month.
Redshirt freshman forward Mason McMurray is averaging 11.0 minutes per game, but has seen less run of late as Roderick’s role expanded. Primarily a back up for Vander Plas, McMurray is averaging just 1.0 points per game. McMurray has no points in his last four games, and has played just 16 minutes total in the last three games.
Redshirt freshman forward Nate Springs, a 6-10 shooter, has also seen his minutes fall of late. Springs is averaging 2.8 points and 8.0 minutes per game, but has just two minutes and one appearance in OU’s last three games. Like McMurray, Springs too has been used primarily as a backup at the forward position.
That leaves freshman Marvin Price, a 6-5 wing. Price missed the entire preseason calendar with a knee injury and Boals has found it hard to get him minutes during the season. Price has appeared in only three games and has six total minutes this season; he did not play in any of Ohio’s three games at the Myrtle Beach Invitational.
With Roderick’s injury, however, it appears it’s time for Price to get a shot.
“I’m just trying to get into the flow of things, get up to speed with everybody else and getting back in the mix,” Price said Tuesday. “We’re all hoping for a speedy recovery, and I’m just trying to stay ready for the opportunity.”
Boals said Price has been better over the last couple of weeks. The coach was hesitant to use him much early in the season without much in the way of a preseason.
“It wasn’t fair to him to throw him in there after being out three-and-a-half months of not doing any conditioning, any drill work or any 5-on-0 offense,” Boals said. “His preseason has been the last two or three weeks.
“But now we’ll look to get him in there,” the coach added. “He’s had a couple good weeks of practice. We need to get him some reps.”
Reps should be available on Wednesday. OU is 5-0 all-time against Rio Grande, an NAIA program. The Bobcats pasted the Red Storm in an exhibition game to start the 2018 season — 93-58. Ohio’s last regular-season game against Rio came in 2000, when OU won 91-70.
The game will be the second against a D-I opponent this season for the Red Storm. Rio Grande lost 92-59 at Marshall on Nov. 2.
“We just want to get better,” Boals said. “I don’t care if you’re playing Villanova or Rio Grande, you have to play the right way, the Ohio University Basketball way.”
Bobcat bits — Senior guard Jordan Dartis was named the MAC East Co-Player of the Week on Monday after combined for 58 points and 14 3-pointers in wins for OU over Middle Tennessee State and Detroit. …Sophomore point guard Jason Preston leads Ohio with 17.3 points per game, and ranks fourth nationally (and leads the MAC) with 8.1 assists per game. …Ohio is 511-167 (.756) all time in games played in the Convocation Center. …Ohio’s next game will be on Sunday, Dec. 8 in a 2 p.m. start against Tennessee Tech.