BOWLING GREEN — Saul Phillips says he sees the potential every day in practice.
But for the last month, that potential has stayed behind closed doors in practice at The Convo.
In a 66-50 loss to Bowling Green, the Bobcats offense was atrocious, but even the defense couldn't salvage a sputtering offense. Three players left with injury and only one returned. The loss is Ohio's third in a row, and sixth in the last seven games.
For a season quickly falling out of salvageability, it was another ugly and discouraging loss.
“It’s real simple," Phillips said. "We can be good, if we start to execute offensively as we do daily in practice. Why that translation hasn’t been made, boy, if I knew, it would be fixed.”
A 9-12 start to the season and a 2-7 start in conference is as bad as anyone could have reasonably expected. The Bobcats were picked to finish third in the Mid American Conference East Division and received the second most first place votes in the division. They're on pace to smash that, and not in the good way.
The question begs to be asked, though, about where criticism is warranted, and how much of it is necessary?
The answer looks clear on paper. The Bobcats were supposed to be one of the conference's best teams this year. The answer is a muddier one, however, when it comes to analyzing how the season has gone from start to finish.
It began when Jason Carter missed time at the beginning of the season due to a lower leg stress fracture, then re-aggravated his injury in December. He has only played in three games this season. Jordan Dartis has battled a hip injury throughout the season and left Tuesday's game unable to put pressure on his left leg.
Mike Laster had to pop his shoulder back into place — twice — this season mid-game to return. Added in are a myriad of other injuries, some of which are playable, others not.
But that doesn't completely excuse the fact that Ohio was hovering around 80 points per game offensively at the end of the first semester. Since the Marshall game Dec. 16, Ohio has averaged just 66 points per game.
Even without the injuries, the Bobcats appeared to be thriving without Carter in the beginning of the season. The offense was clicking and the defense wasn't far behind. Then a cliff appeared and the Bobcats didn't see it.
“We’re going to keep working, we’re going to get this thing as good as we can get it," Phillips said. "I don’t know where that is right now, I know it’s a heck of a lot better than this.”
How much can be attributed to injuries and how much attributed to just a poor season is complicated, because it's a mix of both.
Ohio would have been ahead of Bowling Green in the standings with a win, but a poor start to the game grounded any of those thoughts of a standings climb. The offense continued to struggle as another MAC loss drove Ohio closer to a road game in the first round of the MAC Tournament.
But in the same game, it would be unfair not to mention that a starter and a key contributor were lost for the game, and maybe longer. It's been the microcosm of the season, really.
"They battled, but you don’t get an award for battling at the end of the day,” Phillips said.
The team has struggled in the new year, yet it wasn't a problem in the first semester. But the Bobcats were supposed to have two all-conference players in the starting five this year. As Phillips said, they only had one-half of one (an injured Dartis) for a majority of the season.
It's why any criticism of this team, for now, should be tepid and understanding. The Bobcats have been snakebitten all year long, both on the floor and in the training room. They just can't seem to get rid of the snake.