Ohio coach Saul Phillips said he would never trade away any of his players.
But Phillips should certainly never trade away Antonio Campbell or Jaaron Simmons.
Phillips knows that, but during a back-and-forth first half with Milwaukee on Wednesday night, Ohio was falling back into pour habits: porous screen-and-roll defense; too much reliance on Simmons and Campbell.
It came out in the end, however, Ohio scrapped by Milwaukee 71-69 behind Simmons, Campbell and a little luck in The Convo.
"There are games when the season is over when you sit back and reminisce, this is not one of those games," Phillips said.
The reliance on the two lasted until Simmons alley-ooped to Campbell off a designed screen-and-roll — waking up an Ohio team that was struggling.
After the thunderous slam, Ohio began to play defensively and logically. It’s offense feed Campbell — who had 19 points and 10 rebounds for his third-consecutive double-double — more in the post.
Defenders clamped down more in the second half, causing the Panthers to shoot 12 percent on 3-pointers in the second half. Simmons finished with 14 points and nine assists.
The Ohio win wasn’t pretty in the slightest, either.
Forty-one combined fouls grounded a normally efficient, quick Bobcat offense, as the Panthers stayed competitive thanks to sharp perimeter defense and a double bonus throughout the second half. Ohio shot just 7-20 from beyond the arc Wednesday. Six of those 3-pointers came in the first nine minutes of the game.
“We’re just a little off,” Phillips said. “Like we were in Times Square last week and they got the Mickey Mouse you take a picture with, but it doesn’t quite look like Mickey Mouse. That’s what we are right now. We don’t quite look like us right now.”
Phillips says basketball is all about solving short-term problems.
Maybe it is an anomaly in a long season, but Ohio’s defense had troubled chasing shooters off the perimeter and around screens, according Simmons. After a 10-4 run to start the game, the Bobcats allowed the Panthers to attack the interior with back door cuts and easy layups.
“Their point guard did a great job of keeping the floor spaced and attacking gaps,” Simmons said. “Really, our ball screen defense, we probably could've done a little bit better on our hedges and me, (Jordan Dartis) and our guards we could’ve done a better job getting over screens and recovering better.”
Ohio (6-2) only led 36-35 at half thanks to the Simmons-Campbell alley-oop.
But, it was a game someone had to win. And Ohio just mustered enough offense to garner one. Ohio’s last field goal was a Gavin Block-jumper at the 2:13 mark, using three free throws by Simmons’ to stay afloat late.
Eighteen of Ohio’s 19 free throws came in the second half and its largest lead all night was two. This was all without the Mid-American Conference Player of The Year, Campbell, who fouled out with three minutes left in the game.
“Next man up, really,” Simmons said. “Doug (Taylor), he played great. But what we really try to do is open up the floor … take a little time and attack the gaps and get to the line.”
Phillips said Taylor took a step forward with Campbell riding the bench. Taylor finished with eight points and two rebounds for a plus-nine efficiency.
Still, Phillips and Simmons realized it wasn’t the team’s prettiest game. And so be it.
“I’m happy it was a win,” Phillips said. “I told the guys after the game, as you can probably guess, it wasn’t exactly poppin’ champagne corks after the game.”