The Ohio Bobcats lost in disappointing fashion Tuesday night to the Denver Pioneers 61-57, ending their season in the opening round of the National Invitational Tournament. Despite having every opportunity to take the game, the 'Cats just couldn't pull through in the end.
Welp.. That's it.— Stevie Taylor(@ST_OU22) March 20, 2013
It wasn't supposed to happen this way. Last year's darling of the ball, the most successful class in Ohio Bobcats basketball history, which returned 98 percent of its minutes from last season, should have been primed for another deep run into the NCAA Tournament this spring. With dime-dishing star D.J. Cooper back for a senior season the' Cats look loaded. But after disappointing losses all season long, capped off by an embarrassing loss to the Akron Zips in the Mid-American Conference Championship game, the 'Cats stumbled their way into the National Invitational Tournament, where they lost Tuesday night.
After being down for much of the first half, Ohio surged into halftime. It had been 63 minutes since D.J. Cooper's last field goal, in the final minutes of Ohio's win over Western Michigan last Friday in the MAC Tournament semi-finals, but with 1:55 to go before halftime Cooper suddenly woke up.
He nailed a jumper to bring Ohio within three. Cooper would score the final seven points of the half to put Ohio up 32-30. The 'Cats seemed to bring that momentum out in the second half as well, leading by as much as seven mid-way through the second half. But it just wasn't meant to be. Behind the play of Chris Udofia and Brett Olson, the Pioneers quickly tied the game back up.
The two squads traded blows back and forth up to the final seconds. Ohio had plenty of opportunities to take the lead, thanks to the Pioneers uncharacteristically bad free throw shooting (15-of-29), but wasn't able to get anything down. Down one with 19 seconds to go, Reggie Keely went up for a layup and was rejected. It sealed the game for the Pilots, giving them a 61-57 victory in the opening round of the NIT.
It was the perfect ending to a terribly disappointing season for the 'Cats. Despite all the talent, Ohio was never able to bring it all together. Guys like Ivo Baltic (who wound up with 15 rebounds tonight) and Nick Kellogg struggled all season. Walter Offutt and D.J. Cooper at times struggled to live up to their performances from a year ago, especially late.
While it's disappointing for Ohio fans to see this team bow out so early, it's heartbreaking when you realize one of the greatest careers in NCAA history is now over. Cooper won the hearts of college hoops fans across the nation this season on his path to setting a career stat line that no one has ever seen in Division I hoops.
He became the only player to finish with more than 2000 points, 900 assists, 500 rebounds and 300 steals in his career. He finished No.12 on the all-time NCAA career assists leader-board with 934, he finished his career with 327 steals good enough for No. 16 on the all-time list. He also set numerous MAC and Ohio records in the process.
He led this class to two MAC Tournament titles, a pair of NCAA Tournament births (three wins) and a co-MAC regular season title. The team won more games (94) than any other class in program history under his guidance. While never actually the captain, cooper showed fans of college basketball what a true floor general should look like. A perennial underdog, Cooper was the face of a program that's often been overlooked by its neighbors an hour and a half north. He put on clinics in big games, showing players around the nation the value of choosing a smaller school.
But unfortunately for Cooper and college hoops fans everywhere, his career ended Tuesday night in Denver. It's not often you get to see such a prolific player come along, in fact it never happens. There's a reason Cooper is the only player in Division I history to put up such impressive numbers. He's a once in a lifetime talent, the likes of which it's unlikely the Ohio will ever see again. We'll miss you Coop.