Jaaron Simmons leaned forward in his chair and scratched his chin in satisfaction. He answered every question asked, but his mind was on another press conference.
Friday night Akron coach Keith Dambrot belittled Simmons after his team’s loss at Kent State and said Simmons’ 38-point performance against Akron was more of a fluke than an example of the point guard’s potential.
“That’s not an absurd statement,” Dambrot said. “It’s a fact.”
Simmons made that statement fiction Saturday afternoon.
He scored with ease in Ohio’s 95-75 win over Bowling Green in The Convo and finished with 26 points and 11 assists.
“I’ll never let a man take my confidence,” Simmons said in his own press conference. “Simple as that.”
He didn’t need a certain points total to prove anything to anybody. Rather, the brilliance in his game came from how effortless his fourth double-double this season appeared.
After scoring 14 points in the first half, he went dormant to start the second and only made a free throw in the first 14 minutes. Often times, he was left out of offensive possessions.
But when BGSU cut Ohio’s lead to 10, Simmons’ became his self again.
With three drives through the lane to score three successive baskets for the Bobcats, Simmons once again picked the Falcons defense apart with a simplicity better than anyone in the Mid-American Conference.
“He’s a load,” said Bowling Green coach Michael Huger. “He’s crafty. He’s by far the best point guard in the league in my opinion.”
Simmons' coach took it one step further.
“Jaaron is one of the best point guards in the nation,” Ohio coach Saul Phillips said. “Period.”
Phillips said his point guard can score when he wants, but often opts to make his teammates look better instead. Simmons’ 11 assists tonight tied a season-high.
But Simmons sitting out offensive possessions revealed something much more important for him and his teammates.
For the first time since Antonio Campbell got injured, pre-maturely ending his collegiate career on Jan. 18 against Eastern Michigan, Simmons could relax.
Often single-handily keeping Ohio in contention during games, Saturday was different.
While Simmons scored a game-high in points, five other teammates also hit double digits — the highest total all season.
Campbell or no Campbell, Simmons’ has replaced the leadership of the reigning conference Player of the Year, to keep the No. 2 seed with four regular season games remaining before the MAC Tournament. Ohio was the No. 2 seed when Campbell got injured.
“Losing Tony, from a basketball standpoint, was a complete catastrophe,” Phillips said. “What do you do, where do you go from there? …Through it all Jaaron had that vibe about him like ‘it’s going to be OK.’ ”
“Shoot, Jaaron even makes me calm.”
Simmons had led Ohio to it first three-game winning streak for the first time since Campbell went down. Starting MAC play 3-0, Ohio slipped to 6-5.
But the resurgence of the team, coupled with Simmons’ relaxed but authoritative role, has slowly transformed the Bobcats into arguably their best string of performances during conference play.
“It’s fun,” he said. “It’s a great feeling, like, it’s coming at the right time. This is when you wanna be at your best.”