Memorable team, memorable run.
Apologies in advance for the cynicism. That was ... well boy howdy did I undersell this game or what?
I figured UNC would waltz by maybe 14 points. OHIO would stick around but never get close and for probably the first 30 minutes this was entirely accurate. Those are the types of games which are pitifully painful to watch. It's how I've seen many a basketball team lose a game. And I was so freaking wrong.
OHIO did not lose the game the way the script was seeming to unfold — by Tyler Zeller keeping the Bobcats away with a (his) stiffarm, useless to retaliate. At least when Zeller had the ball that's how it went. So many putbacks, blocks, rebounds on both sides ... and even when he didn't make a play, someone for OHIO had to readjust his shot and would miss the easy one.
How do teams like OHIO stay in such games? They finally start shooting.
They couldn't do it in the first half. DJ Cooper was ice cold and I was convinced Ivo Baltic had been hexed by a fortune teller whom he forgot to tip. None of his shots would stay down. Most rolled out. The only reason they were down not more than seven points was some Nick Kellogg 3-point shots. Phew.
And Walter Offutt ... good LORD Offutt had the game of his life. I picked him to be the MAC Tournament MVP (it went to Cooper). Much like Alex Abreu couldn't miss a free throw when it mattered for Akron two weeks prior, Offutt seemingly was incapable of missing a 3-point shot. I wouldn't be surprised if he was trying to swing the ball around the arc and accidentally made a three. 26 points for the transfer.
Of course, had he totaled 27 points ... then OHIO may have won the game. If. That free throw at the end just clanked off, which set up one of UNC's patented terrible offensive possessions.
They'd probably have called it The Poke. A steal off the drive ... and Cooper's halfcourt shot very similarly resembled Gordon Hayward's last-chance shot for Butler against Duke in the 2010 championship. Cooper's also hit rim and missed.
The overtime seemed like a foregone conclusion. OHIO couldn't get any sort of meaningful points until it seemed out of hand. Offutt fouled out, Cooper was hucking the ball for three from somewhere on the other side of the river, and they weren't falling.
So the season ends for the OHIO Bobcats on March 23, 2012. Figured it was going to be March 16, so after the Michigan win this was all a pleasant surprise. The way they played against UNC should not be remembered sadly. Of course had the free throw or the halfcourt shot made it and had OHIO won this game, I'd be showing this blog post to my grandchildren.
Not to throw in a random curling analogy ... but it's the only sport I can identify as a player. I know that when I play well and lose, I have no shame. Now, if I lose and play like shit (like I did last Sunday) then it stings. Nobody ever plays terribly when they lose in overtime. They just run out of gas and the deeper team wins.
OHIO stuck to their gameplan: they were a little skittish at the beginning but their defense never relented then adapted as the game progressed. They disrupted the Tar Heels offense for 45 minutes ... nah, I'll say 40 minutes. They forced turnovers and usually rotated well but apart from some shots here and there they played beautifully. Maybe the best game of the year.
It's easy to say that the Bobcats lost because North Carolina had a 7-foot superstar and they didn't. I'm sure that'll be how most of the people will remember the game. But OHIO almost won in spite of it. And that's what this observer of the MAC is going to remember. They're right up there with Wally World in '99, EMU in '91, Ball State in '90. Actually this run probably best resembles the Ball State team when they almost took down UNLV.
But you know what's super relieving about this loss? Now we don't have to be OHIO fans anymore. Oh, what a weight off my shoulders. Bet I'll sleep like a baby tonight.
(But seriously. Fantastic season.)