Column: The MAC caught up, and Ohio could never quite keep pace this season

 

Ohio senior forward Jasmine Weatherspoon looks for an open teammate to pass to during the first half of the Bobcat’s 79-68 win over Bowling Green on March 1.

 

Bob Boldon regularly said the Mid-American Conference had improved since he began coaching Ohio in 2013.

Four years ago, Boldon inherited a Bobcat team that was at the bottom of the conference. The next year, the Bobcats rose to the top, winning the MAC Tournament and earning their first NCAA Tournament bid since 1995.

Despite their success in previous years, the Bobcats have lost in the quarterfinals of the MAC Tournament for the past two seasons.

Ohio lost to Northern Illinois 72-71 last Wednesday after blowing a 22-point lead. The Bobcats had one of their classic scoring droughts, only scoring nine points in the fourth quarter.

The Bobcats aren’t at the bottom, but they are no longer at the top. The MAC — a conference filled with mediocre and slightly above average teams — has caught up.

The MAC East? Well, that was simply a deceptive division. Ohio seemingly had that division on lock. But as the season wore on, teams such as Kent State, Buffalo, Bowling Green and Akron quickly let Ohio know that it wouldn’t win the division with ease.

The Bobcats lost to the Golden Flashes twice and split the season series with the Bulls. And despite winning the season series against the Falcons and Zips, the Bobcats even struggled against those teams.

The MAC West? Forget that.

While the East’s talent was deceptive, the West’s was transparent. Central Michigan, even though it lost in the quarterfinals of the MAC Tournament, was clearly the most talented team in the conference. Toledo was about as talented as Ohio, and it defeated Northern Illinois for the MAC title Saturday.

The MAC’s competition level was high, and Ohio’s flaws were shown. The Bobcats’ season was one filled with uncertainty, with questions about the team plentiful.

Could Quiera Lampkins consistently score a bunch of points?

Lampkins did, but the load was heavy.

Could the Bobcats figure out how to consistently run their offense?

They couldn’t. Some games their ball movement was fluid, others the ball seemed to be lathered in glue, as it struggled to be worked around the perimeter.

Could the Bobcats consistently make shots?

Some games they seemed to make every shot, other games the ball, released from the Bobcats’ hands as well as any other shot, had other plans.

The one constant for the Bobcats was their realism. Boldon never wanted the team to be too confident or too low – they always knew what they had to improve on.

But the Bobcats rarely changed their weaknesses into strengths.

Aside from improving a defense that was mediocre to begin the new year, the Bobcats didn’t make significant improvements.

“We’ve had 30 games to try to figure it out and we never really did that,” Boldon said after the Bobcats’ loss to Northern Illinois. “That’s probably the most frustrating thing for me.”

The Bobcats will enter next season without six seniors: Lampkins, Jasmine Weatherspoon, Yamonie Jenkins, Hannah Boesinger, Tmisht Stinson and Destini Cooper.

The most accomplished class of the program will be gone, and Ohio will need to adjust. The six who were a part of the 2015 tourney team won’t be there to help.

Next year, the Bobcats will have a solid core again. Taylor Agler, Amani Burke, Katie Barker and Kelly Karlis will be the leaders.

They won’t be at the bottom, but they won’t be at the top. They’ll just have to figure it out.

@CameronFields_

cf710614@ohio.edu

 

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