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Ohio coach Saul Phillips yells during a time out during a game against the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in The Convo on March 21. Ohio won 72-67 after consistently trailing behind UNCG. Ohio opens their season this Saturday against Southern. (FILE)

Men's Basketball: Ohio welcomes Southern in season opener

Ohio’s season is officially here. 

After spending the previous two weekends playing exhibitions, including a 87-56 dismantling of Rio Grande on Nov. 5, the Bobcats’ quest for a Mid-American Conference title starts Saturday.

Ohio hosts Southern inside The Convo on Saturday at 2 p.m. It is the first time Ohio and Southern have ever played each other.

“I’m really just excited to play right now,” wing player Gavin Block said. “I haven’t looked at the schedule too much, but we definitely have a good non-conference schedule. We have some good teams for us to get ready for conference this year.”

While preparing for the Jaguars this week, the Bobcats remained adamant on bolstering their defense. Last year, it was the Bobcats’ weakness — it ranked near the bottom in most defensive statistics.

From Saturday’s win against Rio Grande, Ohio’s defense looks improved thanks to harder hedging and more weak-side help. After all, the defense was supposed to look strong against a weak exhibition opponent.

“We’re looking to get a little bit better at guarding middle penetration,” forward Antonio Campbell said. “Stop people from dribbling into the middle of the paint and creating whatever they want.”

Campbell said they will look to clamp down on the Jaguars’ ability to attack the interior with their guards Saturday.

Southern advanced to the NCAA Tournament last year with head coach Roman Banks, while ranking in the top-150 in terms of RPI, according to Ken Pomeroy’s analytics. It also ranked 39th nationally in steals percentage last year, according to Sports Illustrated.

Yet, most eyes in the Convo will be on Ohio come Saturday. Ohio has been projected to be in contention for the MAC and, potentially, an NCAA tournament run.

Phillips said he used most of the week to adjust his rotation, a hot topic during the offseason. The Bobcats are about nine-to-10 players deep, as Phillips said he will sit down with his players to discuss where they fit rotation-wise and what they can do to earn more minutes.

Phillips added that some tough — or what he phrased as, “big boy” — conversations will most likely occur.

Many of Ohio’s players are on the bubble, or face dilemmas on what roles they will play this season. Even Phillips has yet to figure out which role every player will have.

Saturday could paint a clearer picture than what has been shown during the preseason.

“I can’t just be nice to everybody, that’s not the way to try to win division one basketball games” Phillips said. “So, again, I really gotta hammer (Ohio’s rotation) down.”

Finally, Phillips stressed the importance of finishing off plays on the offensive plays Saturday. The third-year coach said Monday that he felt there were too many misses on easy layups and good shot selections against Rio Grande. Ohio shot 44 percent on the game, including 33 percent in the first half.

“I thought we took good shots, sometimes we might have been able to turn them down for better shots,” Phillips said. “But for the most part, that’s kind of the way we play.”


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