Ohio’s Gabby Burris makes a pass during the Bobcats’ game against Northern Illinois on Wednesday. The Bobcats defeated the Huskies 77-75. (FILE)
The Mid-American Conference is not filled with elite post players and rebounders. Central Michigan has the best ones; Toledo, Buffalo and Miami have quality forwards, too.
For Ohio, though, guarding MAC teams that have bigger players has been a challenge. The tallest Bobcat players are Olivia Bower and Hannah Thome, who are both 6-foot-1.
While both have gotten minutes in the rotation, neither is going to make a difference in the low post defensively.
The Bobcats are coming off a 64-55 road loss against the RedHawks, a game in which they lost the rebound battle 50-30. That’s the second-largest rebounding margin the Bobcats have had in conference play, with the road loss against Toledo being the highest — the Bobcats were outrebounded 53-24 in that game.
But in playing Miami, Ohio didn’t solely falter in its rebounding. Miami forwards Kendall McCoy and Savannah Kluesner were perhaps the best frontcourt duo the Bobcats had played since Tinara Moore and Reyna Frost, Central Michigan’s starting forwards.
Those teams provide matchup challenges for undersized squads like the Bobcats. The Rockets have Kaayla McIntyre as their lead big. McIntyre operates primarily in the post, though. When the Bobcats lost to the Rockets on the road, Rockets guard Mikaela Boyd finished with more rebounds than McIntyre; Boyd had 19, and McIntyre had 10.
The Bulls have Cassie Oursler and Summer Hemphill, but the Bobcats held them to a combined 14 rebounds. As a team, the Bobcats matched up well with the Bulls, particularly in the rebounding category, losing the rebound battle 42-40.
In guarding Moore and Frost, the challenge was that both are good in the low post — they get their buckets inside.
Guarding Kluesner and McCoy was different for the Bobcats. Like Moore and Frost, Kluesner hangs around the key to score. But McCoy can shoot well.
The RedHawks created an inside-out attack Saturday, with Kluesner scoring inside and McCoy stretching the floor. McCoy shot 60 percent from beyond the 3-point-line and scored 17 points. Kluesner added eight points. On top of that, Lauren Dickerson, the top scorer in the MAC, scored 27 points.
The Bobcats have one of the best defenses in the conference, but in a rare occurrence, they struggled to defend the RedHawks.
Coach Bob Boldon thought Kendall Jessing, the Bobcats’ starting forward, played quality defense. But Boldon also wanted to keep the RedHawks out of their isolation ball screen. He wanted the quicker freshman forward Alexis Stover to defend that and possibly help create more turnovers and uncontested layups.
“It didn’t necessarily work,” Boldon said.
When the Bobcats were down 58-49 against Miami with just over seven minutes left in the game, Stover switched onto Dickerson as McCoy set a screen on Taylor Agler. Dickerson drove to the basket, but because of her length and quickness, Stover forced Dickerson into Agler, who came over for the block.
The block ignited a fast break, and then Agler passed to Dominique Doseck. Doseck hit a 3-pointer, which was part of an 8-0 run the Bobcats went on for a little under two minutes.
The Bobcats will play the second games of their season series against Buffalo, Central Michigan and Miami in February.
Going up against those big teams presents different challenges. The Bobcats guarded Buffalo well. The Bobcats lost 67-63 at home to the Bulls, but the Bulls also only shot 25 percent from the 3-point-line. After the Bobcats lost, freshman forward Gabby Burris emphasized how much importance the Bobcats place on their defense.
“We focus majority on defense because it’s a big part of the game and that’s what we’re pushing to better ourselves in,” Burris said.