AKRON — John Groce saw it coming. He told Saul Phillips as the two coaches shook hands in front of the scorer’s table after the game.
Phillips had a hunch that a breakthrough would happen, but not in this fashion.
Senior big man Doug Taylor was confident, and he might be the only one who saw what Ohio did Saturday to Akron at James A. Rhodes Arena coming.
What the Bobcats did was dismantle Akron by 24 on the Zips’ home floor. A month after getting washed by Akron on their home floor, the Bobcats went north and beat the Zips, 73-49 for their first road win since Jan. 12.
Don’t look now, but Ohio’s riding a wave of confidence.
“I can’t say I’m shocked because I’ve seen good things out of us in the last three or four times out,” Phillips said. “I see us keep building and I see us having a lot of potential to do some neat things.”
The Bobcats are playing their best basketball. They’ve won two out of three games, including an upset of then-No. 1 team in the Mid-American Conference, Bowling Green. The loss was a five-point squeaker at Kent State in which the Bobcats had a lead late and blew it. They’re that close to a three-game winning streak.
Ohio showed a glimmer of potential in the upset win against Bowling Green. Guards Teyvion Kirk and Jason Preston grabbed full control of the offense, and Kirk finally took strides that Phillips has been dying to see.
Since then, Kirk and Preston have been impressive. Kirk’s turnover numbers have dropped significantly, and Preston hasn’t had a turnover in the last three games, even though he’s logged at least 30 minutes in each.
The guards have been surgical with the ball, finding Jason Carter and Taylor inside, and feeding shooters such as Gavin Block, Antonio Cowart and Ben Vander Plas. It all came together Saturday, when Vander Plas had 20 points on six made 3s, thanks to some crisp passing and ball movement.
“It’s just having teammates that can set me up,” Vander Plas said. “Everybody is doing a great job moving the ball around and finding the open guy, and that was me a couple times.”
Those things all seemed to be missing last month, when the Bobcats lost six straight games, motives were questioned and Phillips’ status beyond the MAC Tournament was called into question.
Now, the Bobcats are having fun. Following an ally-oop amid the blowout win Saturday, Taylor walked over to the Ohio bench, put both hands in the air and celebrated with his teammates, something that was absent. There was no confidence a month ago. No fun. No winning.
The mindset of the team changed. The Bobcats hadn’t won on the road in nearly two months. Now, they have the feeling of a road victory back. They know what it’s like to hop on a bus, destroy a team and get back on the bus to return to Athens.
Something they’ll need come MAC Tournament time.
“The whole main point of playing is to win. People say it’s to have fun, but nobody has fun losing,” Taylor said of the road win.
Through February, the Bobcats could barely muster a win at home. The month started with an embarrassing loss to Akron in The Convo on the building’s 50th birthday party. The Zips were having fun on Ohio’s home floor, and they looked good doing it.
Fans went home unhappy, Red Panda’s halftime performance was a moot point and the largest crowd in The Convo all season saw a horrible loss.
But Ohio flipped that script in the rematch.
And now, this team might be onto something.