In terms of raw numbers — the whole binary of wins and losses — the Bobcats’ have not enjoyed the kind of start to Mid-American Conference play that they anticipated.
In a broader sense, however, Jeff Boals continues to believe an upturn is just around the corner.
“We’re close,” Ohio’s first-year men’s basketball coach said on Thursday. “What we need to realize is every possession matters.”
It’s a lesson that should be fresh in the Bobcats’ minds. Ohio (9-8, 1-3 MAC) has dropped two straight in conference play, and is already three full games behind the league leaders. But, the ‘Cats could just as well be 4-0.
Ohio started slow, and faded late, in a road loss at Western Michigan. In the last two outings, the Bobcats controlled play for most of the game, but fell at home to Bowling Green and then at Buffalo thanks to huge second halves for both the Falcons and the Bulls.
In the last two games, OU has given up 50 second-half points both times. Ohio led for more than 24 minutes (of 40) against BG, and for more than 30 minutes against Buffalo — but had zero wins to show for it as the opponent came up with the big plays in crunch time.
“The last turnover, the last drive, that didn’t lose you the game,” Boals said. “You can look at the course of let’s say 10 plays against Western Michigan, Bowling Green and Buffalo. If they’re different you’re 4-0 and not 1-3.
“Valuing every possession of every game and understanding the urgency is what we need.”
Ohio is hoping a rematch, OU plays at Eastern Michigan (10-7, 0-4 MAC) at 2 p.m. on Saturday in Ypsilanti, can help get it back on track.
The Bobcats won the first matchup, 74-68, in the Convo thanks to senior guard Jordan Dartis. Dartis had 26 points, and eight made 3-pointers, to help OU alleviate the problems often presented from the Eagles’ ever-present 2-3 zone. Ohio had five players in double figures, but still needed a strong finish as EMU created a season-high 21 turnovers for OU and cashed them in for 23 points.
That challenge — avoid live-ball turnovers to aid an offensively challenged club while still managing good offense — will again be the forefront of OU’s plans on Saturday. Since the loss at OU, EMU has lost at NIU (71-68) and at home against Ball State (69-52). The Eagles are the only team in the MAC with a conference win after two weeks.
With only 11 days between meetings, Boals believes Ohio will be served by the quick turnaround against EMU. The Eagles’ style is unlike any other in the MAC, which means the Bobcats won’t have to dive deep into the archives to retrieve information on how to attack the outlier defense.
“You’re playing a different style that you don’t see normally,” he said. “It’s still fresh in your mind on how to attack the zone. You played it a week and a half ago.”
Oho is expected to have point guard Jason Preston (cramps), forward Ben Vander Plas (ankle) and Dartis (cramps) all available after each of the team’s top three players had minor injury issues in Tuesday’s loss at Buffalo.
And few in the MAC have been better than Vander Plas in the early going. In four conference games, Vander Plas is averaging a team-best 19.8 points and 8.3 rebounds per game, while shooting 41 percent from 3-point range.
And OU needs Dartis to have a rebound performance. Dartis was scoreless in 25 minutes at Buffalo — just the sixth scoring goose egg of his college career — after missing all five of his 3-point attempts. Dartis, who has missed eight straight 3s, failed to hit a 3-pointer for the 17th time in his 107 games in an Ohio uniform.
Boals said continuing to stress every possession is how the Bobcats can start turning in competitive losses into wins.
“It’s more a matter of us showing our guys, talking about it, continuing to preach it and teach it, and hopefully when we’re in those situations again we’ll minimize the number of possessions we could’ve changed,” Boals said.
“There’s a loose ball, do you dive on the floor for the loose ball? Shot goes up, do you go block out. If you don’t block out, do you go get the ball? A lot of those things.”