Men’s Basketball: Bobcats hoping for positive first year under Phillips

Last year: 25-12, lost in the MAC Tournament quarterfinals to Akron.

Coach: Saul Phillips (first year at Ohio).

Key Returners: Senior forward Maurice Ndour, senior point guard Stevie Taylor, senior guard Javarez “Bean” Willis, redshirt junior forward Treg Setty, sophomore forward Tony Campbell, sophomore forward Wadly Mompremier.

Key Losses: Guard Nick Kellogg, forward T.J. Hall, guard Ricardo Johnson, forward Jon Smith, guard Travis Wilkins.

 

Last season did not end as many in Athens, Ohio, expected it to end. Loaded with a senior-heavy lineup, many expected the Bobcats to make a run at the MAC Championship. However, the injury gods were not too kind to them; senior Ricardo Johnson broke his leg midway through the season, costing him his last year, and two more starters, juniors Maurice Ndour and Stevie Taylor, were hampered with injuries as the season went continued. An early exit from the MAC Tournament left a bitter taste in the mouths of the returning Bobcat players.

This year, the Bobcats get a fresh start, starting with their coach. After previous coach Jim Christian left for Boston College soon after last season ended, Ohio was in need of a new coach. After a few weeks of interviews, Phillips, who previously coached at North Dakota State, was hired to keep the Ohio basketball tradition that has been handed to him by his predecessors. Phillips brings his own success from his previous stop, where he led North Dakota State to two Summit League championships, including last year where it upset No. 5-seeded Oklahoma in the NCAA Tournament second round.

Despite the loss of Ohio’s all-time three-point shooter in Nick Kellogg, the Bobcats return Ndour, who was a second team All-MAC selection last year, Stevie Taylor and “Bean” Willis, all three who played major minutes for last year’s team. The Bobcats also return forwards Treg Setty and Tony Campbell, both of whom were key bench players during the end of last season. Ohio also added a two players this year who bring plenty of athleticism to the table: freshmen Ryan Taylor and Mike Laster. Most guys on the team consider these two to be the best dunkers on the team, but coach Phillips knows they can bring a lot more than just highlight reel dunks.

“I’ve seen these guys play well (in practice), so I know what these guys can do,” Phillips said.

Expectations are high for the Bobcats this season, with experts picking them to finish second in the MAC East division. However, for players on this team, they want to achieve more than that.

“We’re trying to win more games (than last year), and our No. 1 goal this year is to make it the NCAA Tournament,” Ndour said after last week’s Bobcat Madness.

With plenty of players returning from last year, combined with a new coach with a good track record in his previous stop, look for this year’s Bobcat team to be hungry for the MAC Championship and a potential berth in the NCAA Tournament.

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