[Joe Collins | WOUB]

Ohio Men’s Basketball hosts Capital in exhibition game

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — After 251 days, the seemingly brand new Ohio Men’s Basketball team returned to the Convocation Center in a telling game about the upcoming season.   

It’s been about 7 and a half months since the Bobcats season ended at the hands of the Rice Owls in the College Basketball Invitational. Yet the team that fell short of expectations last season was not the one playing in Thursday’s exhibition match against Capital. Constructed of nine underclassmen and only six familiar faces, Ohio’s youthful squad ended Thursday’s dress rehearsal in positive spirits.   

Ohio’s roster last season consisted of nine upperclassmen, six of whom were seniors or older. Most of that team was part of Ohio’s magical March Madness run in 2021. Established veteran forwards like Ben Vander Plas and Jason Carter paved the way alongside Jason Preston’s protegee, Mark Sears. 

 The 2022-2023 Bobcats are flipped. Not six guys who are seniors or older, but six total players who returned. 

Currently Ohio’s roster consists of six freshmen, returning sophomores AJ Clayton, IJ Ezuma, and Olumide Adelodun who altogether averaged 6.5 minutes per game, three transfers, and Dwight Wilson who missed all last season. That leaves seniors Ben Roderick and Miles Brown the only two who averaged more than 10 minutes a game.  

Yet throughout all the uncertainty leading up to this season, Jeff Boals’ confidence in the team’s ability to develop and win has never waivered.  

“I love our team. I love the makeup of our team,” Boals said.  

Albeit an exhibition match, Ohio showed plenty of competitiveness in the annual matchup. Transfers DeVon Baker and Jaylin Hunter from Tulane and Old Dominion, respectively, meshed with the team early. The two each played over 24 minutes and combined for 25 points by the end.  

Following a rapid start, the offense stalled to a near halt. Sloppy play and a lack of the prolific scoring that Ohio’s big three brought last year, kept Capital somewhat in the game. Three point and free throw shooting woes, two areas which Ohio struggled last year, were brought back to light.  

Heading into the locker room the abysmal shooting stints of 1-10 from three and 9-16 from the charity stripe were alarming.  

Again, a Capital surge to begin the final 20 minutes gave Ohio a scare. Missed layups, dunks, and three’s further positioned a Capital win. Eventually the Bobcats collected themselves and pulled away, diminishing any sliver of hope the Comets had. However, the victory was not convincing.

The Bobcats ended the game shooting 8.7% from three and with 15 turnovers. Nevertheless, there were some considerable takeaways from tonight. The major one being success in the paint. Ohio scored 56 points in the paint tonight, much of which is due to the addition of Louisville transfer Gabe Wiznitzer and the return of Dwight Wilson. Boals knows the presence two big men can bring to the offense.   

“Last year we were a little bit more non-traditional,” Boals said. “With Gabe and DJ it gives us more size and physical presence down low. The ability to throw the ball on the block is really going to be helpful for us.”  

Understandably so, there was a severe lack of chemistry and creativity to open the season. Although that’s what happens when you lose Ben Vander Plas to Virginia, Mark Sears to Alabama, and Jason Preston to the NBA all in a matter of two years. Producing top tier talent at a mid major school like Ohio is not common whatsoever. The last time a MAC player got drafted higher than Jason Preston was 2003. No other MAC player who transferred out last year is currently at a top 25 team-Ohio had two.

Jeff Boals has built a thriving culture in Athens, one based on developing and cultivating talent that has flown under the radar of most programs.  

Monday’s matchup against Belmont will begin a test for Ohio. The question at hand: Can the Bobcats re-tooled and refreshed roster compete for a MAC title? Or will the losses of key players prove to be too much for Jeff Boals’ youngsters? Treading uncertain waters, Ohio’s untested players and longtime veterans face an uphill climb entering this season.