Saul Phillips didn’t want to move on from Saturday’s 72-66 win over Eastern Michigan.
During his postgame interview, Phillips stopped from transitioning to a conversation about the upcoming game against Akron. After four losses in five conference games, including the worst conference home loss in program history to Toledo on Tuesday, Phillips preferred to savor the moment.
“We’ve had too many of these where you’ve had to sit there and hope I don’t explode like a volcano,” Phillips said. “Can’t we just dwell on the moment?”
Dwelling on the moment is exactly what Phillips’ players avoided in their win at the EMU Convocation Center. After losing by 34 points on Tuesday and trailing by seven at halftime Saturday, they responded by dissecting Eastern Michigan’s zone defense in the second half.
Ohio forced its way to the middle of the EMU’s zone and created open shots for baseline cutters and open shooters en route to shooting 63 percent during the second half.
The open shooter was usually Jordan Dartis, who scored a game-high 24 points — 21 in the second half — on 8-of-12 shooting.
Dartis was questionable for Saturday’s game with his admittedly “old man hips.” Fortunately for him, his top half was healthy enough to knock down seven 3-pointers.
“When you shoot unconsciously like that, it doesn’t matter if there’s a hand there or not,” Dartis said. “It kept going in tonight.”
Dartis has always been a key to Ohio’s zone offense. As one of the most prolific shooters in program history, he’s the zone buster.
He scored 26 points at Eastern Michigan last season, and with 13:39 remaining, Dartis punctuated his encore.
Dartis caught a pass from Gavin Block well behind the 3-point line, already three second half 3-pointers deep. He released from 30 feet away without hesitation, and as his shot went through the net, the contesting Eastern Michigan defender threw his arms in the air.
He did all he could. He couldn’t believe Dartis’ hot streak.
Dartis used that hot streak as leverage just over a minute later. He caught the ball in nearly the same spot. But this time, he pump faked and drove to the basket for an open layup. Dartis scored 20 points for first time since Dec. 12.
And that wasn’t the only first that the Bobcats produced. By winning in Ypsilanti, they not only snapped a 3-game losing streak, they won their first road game all season.
They felt good about themselves for the first time since beating Northern Illinois on Jan. 6. And they needed to after the Toledo loss.
“It’s tough to sit on what we went through the other night,” Phillips said. “You walk around campus and you don't want to make eye contact with anyone. All of a sudden, your list of potential girlfriends dwindles to negative numbers.”
For the moment, the mood around the Bobcats, and maybe even their dating prospects, is positive.
Phillips finally saw his team play competent offense for an extended period. Just a half, but he’ll take the incremental improvement
His team assisted on 18 of their 23 field-goals, which is the result of the ball movement he’s been preaching. The nonsensical turnovers he despises nearly disappeared in the second half. His team recorded only three.
For the first time in what felt to Phillips like a lot longer than two weeks, they played as one five-man unit instead of five one-man units.
“We’ll lose every one-on-one matchup out there,” Phillips said. “We can’t do it one on one. That’s not the way we play.”
Now he needs to see them do it again on Tuesday against John Groce and the Zips.
Injuries have worn the Bobcats thin. Maybe this Bobcat team won’t reach its original ceiling. But Phillips still thinks it can be pretty good. And Saturday, he felt satisfied with pretty good as opposed to what preceded it.
“We’re not whole,” Phillips said. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t still be pretty good. We’ll get there, we’ll get there.”