Updated Sun, Mar 30, 2014 7:06 am
If you’re looking for the best way to sum up Ohio’s season, you should start with the January 26 meeting against Toledo in the Convo. Ohio played a perfect first half and led the superior Rockets 36-19 at half. Heck, Ohio even started the second half on a 5-1 run. But, as seemed to be a common theme all year long, the Bobcats could not find a way to keep their strong play going for all forty minutes. Toledo pulled off what seemed to be the impossible, coming back from 21 down in the second half, sending Ohio to its third consecutive loss.
The 2013-14 season seemed to fall under that same season-long script for Ohio, who finished with a record of 9-21, posting just four conference victories.
The young, inexperienced Bobcats took their fair share of lumps under first-year head coach Bob Boldon, but the season also represented a culture change and what Boldon hopes is the framework for what he believes is a bright future.
“The overall success of this team will be judged over the next two years,” Boldon said. “If we use those failures to drive us to become better players, then you’ll say that this was more successful than the numbers would indicate.”
With injuries depleting the roster and taking away the team’s senior leadership, the Bobcats only dressed eight, sometimes nine players this season. Of that group, six were true freshmen, two were sophomores, and Mariah Byard held things down for the junior class.
The inexperience haunted Ohio, especially during Mid-American Conference play, where the team blew three second-half leads and just couldn’t close out games that they played well enough to win.
“I know when I say we’re talented, you guys look at our stats and think, Well, what’s your talent?” Boldon said. “But we saw a lot of growth with kids in practice, which means we’re getting there. Their job is to translate that into winning games.”
In MAC play, Ohio shot just 35 percent from the floor and 63 percent from the free throw line and were outrebounded by nearly seven rebounds a game. Now that the season has come to an end, Boldon is looking forward to turning the page and focusing on the improvements he saw.
“We had a 76-spot improvement in RPI. That’s a ridiculous number,” he said. “Were we where we want to be? Of course not. We lost games. We don’t want to lose games.”
The work begins this spring for a team that didn’t get this same opportunity a year ago. Almost all of last spring’s workout and practice time was lost in the transition period between coaches. Boldon and his staff did not take over until just two weeks were left in the spring semester, and that hurt the amount of teaching they could fit in.
When the team got things going in the fall, there was a long list of things to work on and get better at.
“The sophomores and juniors were learning the same things the freshman class was,” Boldon said. “They didn’t know anything more than the freshmen class knew, so there was a lot of teaching, a lot of learning.”
This spring provides Boldon the start of his first full offseason and a chance to find the buttons to push that will take this team to the next level.
“I hope at some point they’ll hate losing as much as I do, and when we get there, we’ll probably be pretty good,” he said. “That’s the mentality that we’ve gotta change, and I think we’re getting there.”
A huge boost to the program and the team’s outlook for next season may start with the new additions. Michigan State transfer Mariah Harris and incoming freshman Kelly Karlis could be two huge additions for the Bobcats.
Harris, who stands at 5 feet 11 inches tall, is a versatile player that brings a new skill set to Ohio. She played point guard in high school, but made the transition to the post during her time at Michigan State. Within Boldon’s motion offense, Harris should thrive as a playmaker.
“[Harris is] comfortable on the low block, she’s comfortable facing the basket,” Boldon said. “The more versatile athletes that you have, the easier it becomes to manipulate defenses.”
Karlis measures in at over 6 feet tall and also brings that dynamic ability to play multiple positions on the court. She led her high school team to a state championship this year and she was named the tournament’s MVP.
Boldon wants the additions of Harris and Karlis to not only be a boost to the team’s overall skills and abilities, but to push the competition inside the team to another level. He admits that there were times players played simply because of the lack of healthy bodies.
“I don’t think next year really any minutes are guaranteed. I wouldn’t be able to tell you right now who is going to start,” he said. “I couldn’t even tell you that everybody is going to play next year. It should make for a more competitive summer, and a more competitive basketball team.”
Boldon’s optimism is the first sign that this past season has been put to a close and all the attention and focus is on taking the next step into the 2014-15 year. Internally and externally, expectations will be raised and Boldon is arguably the spearhead for that mentality.
“We want to try to win every game that we play,” he said. “We’ve got some talented young ladies. We just gotta fine tune our skills.”