Ohio coach Saul Phillips keeps a journal of things he’s grateful for and writes down five each day. One of those reoccurring entries is his point guard Jaaron Simmons.
Phillips was reminded on Saturday afternoon why he’s so thankful for having Simmons on his team.
The Bobcats were tied with Northern Illinois with four minutes left after leading the Huskies by 16 at halftime. To get the win and improve to .500 in the MAC, Ohio needed Simmons. He came through for the Bobcats by scoring or assisting on 15 of the Bobcats last 16 points to lead Ohio 80-69 over the Huskies.
“I’m going to let everybody in on a little secret: Jaaron Simmons is pretty good,” Phillips said. [He] had that look in his eye like ‘We’re not losing today, it’s just not happening.’”
Simmons finished with 24 points, 10 of which came in those last four minutes. He started by knocking down two free throws to give Ohio (14-8, 5-5) a one-point lead and answered a Northern Illinois (16-7, 5-5) layup by drilling a three. On Ohio’s next possession, he found Jordan Dartis open for three, which the freshman hit putting the Bobcats up by five.
“Shoot, he was wide-open,” Simmons said. “I saw him down on his spot and I hit him.”
Over the next two minutes, Simmons made another free throw, glided a smooth, no-look bounce pass to Tony Campbell and hit a mid-range jumper to give Ohio a 77-69 lead with a little over a minute left. That lead was more than enough for Ohio to grab the victory, but it was only fitting for Simmons to make another two free throws to give Ohio 80 points for the 11th time this season.
“I just didn’t want to lose,” Simmons said. “Whatever I had to do, whether that was pass to an open teammate or get a bucket or get to the line, that was my mindset. I had to do it.”
Simmons’s performance on Saturday came a few days after he turned the ball over seven times and missed three free throws late against Akron, which Ohio ended up losing by 12. Phillips said the next day, early in the morning, he heard the ball bouncing on the court and found Simmons practicing free throws.
Against the Huskies, he went 7-for-8 from the free-throw line and only turned the ball over once.
Simmons also finished the night with 12 assists, which continue to be the main focus for the sophomore who ranks third in the country averaging 7.8 assists per game. He passed that in the first half by dishing out eight.
Ohio’s 16-point halftime lead disappeared after the Huskies went on a 21-4 run in the first eight minutes of the half. That run included a 10-0 stretch where Northern Illinois made five straight layups. Phillips described the game as “the best punch” Ohio’s taken and gotten back up from.
With the win, Ohio closed out its three-game home stand by picking up two victories with the other coming against Kent State last Saturday. The Bobcats will look to move above .500 in the MAC for the first time this season when they travel to Muncie, Indiana to take on Ball State at 7 p.m. on Feb. 10.