OXFORD — Saul Phillips slouched against the wall inside Millett Hall staring at his team’s box score.
A few feet away from two of his players, Jason Carter and Ben Vander Plas, answered questions from the media.
While Phillips’ players were asked about the coach’s contract, Phillips wasn’t.
On Saturday afternoon, it was impossible to avoid thinking about the black cloud hovering over the Ohio men’s basketball program, as it was dismantled by arch-rival Miami 79-59 in the 204th meeting in the “Battle of the Bricks.”
The loss marked the Bobcats’ third-straight. It’s the first time they’ve lost back-to-back games to the RedHawks under Phillips.
“We’re just trying to win games right now,“ Vander Plas said. “I don’t think there’s anything more than that.”
The Bobcats entered Saturday’s game on a week’s worth of rest and hoping to finding momentum to start the second half of Mid-American Conference play.
Instead, the Bobcats were handed more questions to answer after the mid-week bye was supposed to help them refocus and answer those questions.
Ohio struggled to generate offense for much of the game. It finished 21-of-59 from the field and 6-of-19 from 3-point range. Carter called it a lack of confidence, Vander Plas said it needed to enjoy playing the game of basketball more. At one point in the second half, Ohio went 14 straight possessions without a score.
As the offense continued to struggle Saturday, new problems arose. The Bobcats steady defense struggled for stretches against the RedHawks. Miami guards Nike Sibande and Darrian Ringo gave Teyvion Kirk fits all afternoon, and Bam Bowman controlled the boards from tip-off, positioning himself inside the paint.
The Bobcats didn’t reciprocate.
“We just move on to the next one, they come at you fast,“ Phillips said.
Carter said the locker room wasn’t focused on their coach’s contract expiring in May, and Vander Plas agreed.
Both Phillips’ players have bought into his vision, which includes a strong perimeter offense that can knock down 3s and a defense that forces opponents to beat Ohio inside.
The only problem is this: the Bobcats can’t knock down 3s, and they had no control of the paint Saturday afternoon.
Ohio has eight games remaining in its regular season — four in The Convo and four on the road. It’s in the midst of its worst losing streak of the season and owns the worst record in the MAC East Divison at 3-7.
Of course, there can be hope for Phillips. The Bobcats could turn around their offense and finish in the top eight, meaning a home game in the first round. A trip to Cleveland could save the fifth-year coach’s job, but Ohio’s trending in the opposite direction.
Miami coach Jack Owens said Phillips just had bad luck in Athens. It’s true. Even this season, he’s without his two best shooters. Owens said he thinks Phillips is one of the most respected coaches in the conference and in the country.
But at the end of the day, it doesn’t always work out.
Back-to-back losses to his arch-rival is a sign things aren’t working out. Add in last week’s beat down from Akron in front of a season-high attendance at The Convo, and things seem to be getting bleaker game by game.
At the end of the day, that cloud isn’t moving anytime soon. It might even grow larger.