Ohio University redshirt sophomore guard Jaaron Simmons (#2) drives to the net against the Northern Illinois defense at the Convocation Center in Athens, Ohio on Saturday. The Bobcats defeated the Huskies, 80-69, and Simmons recorded his fifth double-double of the season. (Nicole Raucheisen/WOUB)

Ohio Wins Season Opener Against Southern

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An explosive end to the first half and start to the second was all Ohio needed to down Southern Saturday and open the fresh season with a 77-67 victory.

Trailing by three with under four minutes until the half, Ohio was sparked by a Tony Campbell triple. After that, Rodney Culver took a defensive rebound coast-to-coast for a bucket and threw down a Doug Taylor miss to preserve a lead the ‘Cats wouldn’t lose.

Consecutive blocks from Campbell and deep balls on three straight offensive possessions put Ohio up 11 early in the second. Southern didn’t get closer than a deficit of seven for the remainder of the contest.

Showing their Depth

Things looked a little bleak for the Bobcats early on. In the first 87 seconds, Campbell picked up two fouls and was quickly benched, and a couple turnovers from Simmons led to an early Jaguar lead.

Even when the ‘Cats clawed their way back, it seemed Southern couldn’t miss. Ohio trailed for all but 56 seconds of the opening half.

With the starters in trouble early, Ohio turned to its bench guys, and those guys had a huge impact.

“Our bench was incredible today,” Kenny Kaminski said after the game. And he’s right.

The Bobcats shuffled in nine players in the first six and a half minutes. Taylor, Mike Laster, Culver and fellow freshman Jason Carter filled up crucial minutes for Ohio off the bench and combined for 17 points. Taylor logged six boards in place of Campbell in that first half, and ended the day with eight. Though he played fewer minutes, Carter played strong defense against Southern’s big men, and Laster kept his backcourt matchups in check as the first half progressed.

And even with the depth Ohio showed Saturday, Saul Phillips hinted at even more to come.

“I didn’t even get to guys I wanted to get to tonight,” Phillips said. “We’re even deeper than we showed.”

First Impressions

Culver made a name for himself in his first game for the Green and White as he scored nine points, pulled down three boards, and looked mighty good doing it all.

“Rodney brought some juice to the building tonight. No doubt about that,” Phillips said.

His put back slam toward the end of the first half was the play of the game, and it was “just the cherry on top” of a memorable performance to start his Bobcat career.

“It was pretty cool,” Culver said of his first game, smiling. “I was excited to get on the court, and once I’m on the court, I want the other team to know I’m there.”

Coming off a 15-point performance against Rio Grande a week ago, Carter also made his presence felt. He pulled down some tough rebounds on the offensive glass and filled in nicely on the defensive end.

Jordan Dartis made a good first impression for himself as well. When Simmons sat out, the sophomore took the reigns by bringing the ball up the court, and even when Simmons was in the game, he split his point guard duties with Dartis.

Dartis dished out four assists on the afternoon, trailing Simmons for the team’s lead by a slim margin of one. When Southern employed a harsh press late in the game, oftentimes it was Dartis, not Simmons, who handled the ball to beat it.

However, he did break the point guard mold in the scoring category, leading the team with 15 points. Simmons finished with 11.

Room for Improvement

Ohio really clicked on both sides of the ball. After an offseason spent improving the defense, Phillips was pleased with his team’s performance in the second half, and the offense picked up right where it left off last season.

Even so, the Bobcats have areas to improve on.

Free throw shooting was a mess for Ohio in the first half as they shot a measly 40 percent. No player who visited the stripe made consecutive foul shots. In the second half, Ohio went 11-12 from the line, but ended the game with a mediocre 63 percent overall.

Transition offense is an area that could also use some work. Once after a steal and a looping pass over defenders, Gavin Block was alone against two defenders. Instead of waiting for numbers or making a move to the cup, he forced a mid-range shot and missed. On another occasion, the ‘Cats had all five guys in transition against three Jaguar defenders, but lost a pass out of bounds and were forced to give it back to Southern.

It was a close game for the whole first half, but if Ohio could’ve capitalized on free throws and transition opportunities, this one could’ve been over much quicker. Phillips admits his team’s performance wasn’t flawless, but was proud to hop out to a 1-0 start.

“It wasn’t the prettiest, but it’s the first,” Phillips said. “And so far, it’s my favorite win of the year.”

What’s Next?

Ohio has a quick turnaround before it returns to the Convo on Monday to battle Sam Houston State. The Bearkats (yes, with a k) trounced visiting LeTourneau 104-57 in their season opener, and prove a worthy adversary for the Green and White. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.