A team with the aspirations that Saul Phillips and his Ohio Bobcats have for this season should cruise comfortably against a Division-II team that is 301st in the country in defense and gives up an average of 89.1 points per game.
Well while Ohio (8-3, 0-0) did pull out the 77-50 victory over the Urbana Blue Knights (5-6, 0-4) Friday night in the Convocation Center, it wasn’t as easy as Phillips would have liked. After trailing 34-31 at halftime, the Bobcats opened up the second half on a 19-2 run to regain control of the game and avoid any possibility of an upset.
“Well my halftime speeches are clearly better than my pre-game speeches,” coach Saul Phillips said after the game. “I told the guys this game was about us, and tonight we saw the worst and the best of us. You can’t live life like we did tonight and survive in MAC play.”
The 19-2 run from the Bobcats to start the second half killed any nerves the Ohio fans had during halftime. The difference for Ohio in the second half was directly attacking Urbana’s 2-3 zone that gave the Bobcats so much trouble in the first half.
“We weren’t aggressive in the gaps during the first half.” Phillips said. “I told Jaaron [Simmons] to stop worrying about the score or who we were playing and to just play his game. As soon as I said that, he started driving the team and he set the momentum for the second half. There is a big sense of calmness amongst the team when Simmons is playing the way he did in the second half.”
For as much as Ohio struggled in the first half, Urbana deserved their lead. The Blue Knights were relentless on defense, running a 2-3 zone that Ohio could not figure out. With no Tony Campbell (knee) to wreak havoc inside, Urbana forced the Bobcats to pass the ball around the arc and did not allow any inside penetration.
With the lack of penetration, Ohio had to settle for contested shots and a lot of three pointers. Ohio started hot from three, shooting 4-for-6 from beyond the arc in the first five minutes of the game, but went ice cold and shot 1-for-12 for the rest of the half.
“The talk at half was to just wake up,” sophomore guard Jordan Dartis said after the game. “We just needed to play our game. We needed to be more aggressive up and attack the zone. We got good looks in the first half, they just weren’t falling.”
Kenny Kaminski led all scorers with 18 points and added three assists and one rebound. Doug Taylor had a quiet 11 points and three rebounds filling in for Tony Campbell. Jahmere Howze led the way for the Blue Knights with 14 points and four rebounds. DeQuan Abrom was huge in the first half and added 12 points of the bench for Urbana.
The Bobcats finish their non-conference schedule with a decent 8-3 record with two tough losses to Iona and Western Kentucky. Ohio enter MAC play as the favorites to win the conference.
The Bobcats welcome the Western Michigan Broncos, the team picked to finish fifth in the MAC West, to the Athens on Tuesday to kick of 2017. Tip-off is at 7 p.m.