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Whit's End: Ohio Turning it Around

MAC Homepage

Ohio Basketball

Ohio Bobcats
4-6 (1-1 MAC)

by Dan Whitmyer

January 8th, 2003

Call it a New Years resolution, it was about 7 hours until the ball would drop in Times Square on December 31st, when Ohio turned its season around.  Not even ten minutes into the game, the Bobcats had gone down 15 to St. Bonaventure on their homecourt, and it looked as if they were about to get trounced again. Then Brandon Hunter grabbed a
board, and Steve Esterkamp hit a shot.  Then Hunter rebounded. Then Thomas Stephens started to look like the playmaking point guard that Ohio so desperately needed, as he weaved in and out of defenders, breaking The Bonnies’ press, driving to the hoop and dishing out of trouble. Then Esterkamp hit another shot. Hunter still hit the boards strong. Then King drained a jumper, then Halbert, the whole time Hunter just kept tearing down the boards, and hitting his putbacks.

When it was over the Bobcats had pulled off a thrilling 104-101 victory.  Thanks in part to Sonny Johnson’s 17 points, Steve Esterkamp’s 24 points, Brandon Hunter’s 18pts/24boards, and most of all Thomas Stephens’ 23pts/9assists.  Ohio fans had seen what they’d been waiting all season for. Passion.

The next game was in Cincinnati versus #20 Kentucky.  Many would have
expected to see Ohio play dead after going down 19 at the beginning of the second half, but this team began to rally, as Sonny Johnson, often criticized for playing wildly on offense and defense, was an absolute spark plug, and Brandon Hunter grabbed 17 boards.  After a long, dreadful beginning to the season Tim O’Shea finally got his team playing with some enthusiasm, and they made a huge run at the end of the game, cutting Kentucky’s lead to 3, before ultimately losing. 

Now as conference play begins, the season begins to come into focus.  The out of conference record makes little difference now. Ohio comes from the same conference that only got one NCAA bid last season when Ball State was shut out, despite having 23 wins, two of those against Duke and UCLA.  What does matter is the unmeasurable amount this team learned in these first nine games, all but two of which were on the road.

The Bobcats have finally found a player in Stephens worthy of the title, “starting point guard”. They’ve settled in on an 8 man rotation.  The two freshman, King and especially Halbert have been playing their roles very well, learning and improving.  Steve Esterkamp has found his shot.  Delvar Barrett has provided a viable second post option. Most of all, Hunter has been a monster under the hoop.  He has a double-double in 7 of his 9 games and is scoring at a 18.3 clip, and leading the nation in rebounding with 13.0.

The Cats have played some tough teams, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Depaul, St.
Bonaventure, and Providence.  They’ve suffered some tough losses, but what really matters is how the Bobcats are playing going into conference play. Ohio is playing its best basketball of the young season right now.  You’ve got to give credit to Coach O’Shea for putting together such a tough schedule, and improving his team throughout it.  He has taken a lot of heat from some of the Bobcat
faithful for losing so many games with what is believed to be a very talented team. What critics don't take into account is that playing quality opponents on the road should give this Ohio team valuable poise and experience.  This should pay dividends in MAC play, and most importantly, in the MAC tournament. 


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Dan Whitmyer

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