Men’s Basketball: Ohio continues to battle early season issues, hosts Alcorn State

When asked about his team’s shaky start, Ohio first-year coach Saul Phillips likened the struggles his Bobcats have faced so far this season to those of another basketball team three hours north of Athens.

Saul Phillips compares Ohio's early season struggles to those of the NBA's Cavaliers. Stephen Dunn, Getty Images

Saul Phillips compares Ohio’s early season struggles to those of the NBA’s Cavaliers.
Photo from Stephen Dunn, Getty Images.

“Any team that has new components goes through a journey like this,” Phillips said. “Look how the Cavaliers started this season.”

Ohio (2-3) may not boast a lineup with the star power of Cleveland’s, but the two teams do have something in common: slow starts to a season with high expectations.

“As a group, we’re still trying to figure out a lot things,” Ohio forward Maurice Ndour said. “I think that’s messed with our offense a little.”

The ‘Cats have struggled to play a complete game this season. Ohio has spurts where it looks dominant on the court, but other times the team struggles to even put the ball in the basket.

“It’s an issue that we’ve struggled with since our Canada trip,” Phillips said. “Once we get comfortable on the perimeter, the world is going to open up for us.”

Phillips thinks that one of the main issues with his team’s start is its shooting. The Bobcats enter Saturday shooting 43 percent from the field and just 27 percent from beyond the arc.

The Green & White will look to rebound from two consecutive losses when they host Alcorn State on Saturday afternoon. The Braves enter the game with just one win, which came over NAIA Dillard University, but Alcorn State has faced a stiff schedule including No. 8 Texas, Iowa and California.

“There are a lot of teams that would be 1-6 if they played that schedule,” Phillips said.

The Braves feature four players averaging 10 points or more, led by 15.6 points per game from junior swingman Leantwan Luckett. Alcorn State has struggled with its shooting as well this season; the Braves are shooting 38 percent from the floor.

Despite early season struggles, Phillips is confident that his team with work through its problems as the season progresses.

“If it were seamless and easy, they wouldn’t have to pay the coaches as much,” Phillips said.

Saturday’s game tips off at 2 p.m. in The Convo.

UPDATE (10 p.m.): According to Jason Arkley of The Athens Messenger, the Bobcats will be without freshman guard Ryan Taylor for Saturday’s game and several following games. Taylor contracted mononucleosis, Phillips said on Friday. Taylor is averaging 11.2 points per game this season.

The Opponentcorn

Alcorn State Braves (1-6)

Conference: Southwestern Athletic Conference, aka SWAC

Location: Lorman, Mississippi

Offense: 64.1 points per game

Defense: 79 points per game

Ohio Player to Watch: Stevie Taylor

Finally healthy from his calf injury, Taylor was supposed to start his senior season with a bang, but it’s been anything but. Through five games, Taylor is averaging 6.4 points per game and shooting just 26 percent from the floor. The senior point guard tallied 17 points against Belmont, but he’s struggled in all of his other games this season. Look for Taylor to break out on Saturday against a penetrable Braves defense.

Alcorn State Player to Watch: Marquis Vance

Vance is Alcorn State’s leading rebounder, pulling down 6.7 boards per game, but he may be outmatched against Ohio on Saturday. Vance is listed 6-foot-7, and is the second-tallest player in the Braves’ rotation. Five Bobcats exceed Vance’s height and pose a disadvantage for the sophomore forward. If the Braves want to be in this game, Vance needs to step up on the glass.

Prediction: Ohio 77, Alcorn State 63

Ohio brings a major size advantage into this game over the Braves. I could see the game going back and forth in the first half, but the Bobcats will pull away in the end. Ndour will be able to get better looks in the paint over the Alcorn State front line and bounce back from what he calls “not being in a good rhythm” in the past two games. Ohio will avoid dropping three straight games.

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