BOWLING GREEN — For perhaps the first time ever, coach Saul Phillips held back during an interview.
Phillips hides nothing from the media. He volunteers anecdotes.
But that wasn’t the case after Tuesday’s 66-50 loss to Bowling Green, Ohio’s sixth loss in its last seven games. When asked what he said to his team at halftime, Phillips’ answer — more accurately, his lack of one, said plenty about his frustration level.
“I’ll keep that in the locker room,” he said.
Phillips’ team tied a season low by scoring 50 points and managed only 19 in the first half before the locker room speech in question, and It did so against the worst defensive team in the Mid-American Conference. Tuesday’s game was supposed to be the beginning of a turnaround, not a further dive in the same direction.
The Bobcats finished with three assists, the fewest of any Phillips-led team from Athens or otherwise. They average 81 points per game when they record 15 or more assists, and 68.5 when they don’t.
Phillips believes it’s that simple. What’s more, he sees his team share the ball in practice. But as Ohio’s most recent offensive disaster showed, Phillips’ players struggle to maintain the same philosophy during games.
“We can be good if we start to execute offensively as we do daily in practice,” Phillips said. “Why that translation hasn’t been made — boy if I knew, it would be fixed.”
Phillips has talked to his players about how to prevent the mega droughts. Can they execute his vision? Do they need to try a new system?
The players all say they can. They don’t want to try something new.
“And then they come out and they don’t pass,” Phillips said.
The reasons for Phillips’ frustrations were never clearer than in the first half, when his guards repeatedly attacked the rim again Bowling Green’s front court and opted for contested layups instead of passing to the perimeter.
On the final 11 possessions of the half, Phillips cited, his team passed the ball 13 times. They scored two points. They trailed by 22 and never got closer than 14 afterward.
That was while they were healthy. Healthier, at least.
With 57 seconds remaining in the first half, Zach Butler bent over and grabbed at his left shoulder after diving for a loose ball. He returned wearing a sling, the first of three in-game locker room visits by Ohio players at the Stroh Center.
Mike Laster re-injured his heavily-wrapped shoulder after being knocked to the ground with 18:23 remaining. He returned, but the pain persisted, as did Ohio’s horrific injury luck.
With 15:36 remaining, Jordan Dartis crumpled to the floor in the middle of a drive to the basket. His nagging hip gave out, he was helped off the court and later exited the locker room on crutches.
Dartis, Butler and Laster are all scoring threats when the Ohio offense functions properly. Without them, and without the injured Jason Carter, scoring becomes difficult.
But as the Bobcats proved Tuesday and Laster noted afterward, scoring becomes nearly impossible if they don’t execute the game plan, regardless of who’s healthy.
“We try not to use (the injuries) as an excuse,” Laster said. “Translate our good offense that we have in practice to the games.”
Laster and his coach both see the promise in practice. They both know 50 points is far from their standard. The Bobcats have considerable room for improvement, if nothing else.
But how much can they actually improve?
“We’re gonna get (the offense) as good that we can get it,” Phillips said. “I don’t know where that is right now, but I know it’s a heck of a lot better than this.”