Updated Tue, Nov 29, 2011 4:53 pm
The Bobcats fell 59-54 Friday to Louisville at the spacious KFC YUM! Center. Though an Ohio victory was an afterthought coming into the game, it was the Bobcats leading by six with under four minutes to play. The loss knocks Ohio to 3-1, while Louisville remains perfect at 5-0.
What it means: Sorry folks, but this will not be an undefeated season for your beloved Bobcats. This shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody, as even the boldest of Ohio fans would not have predicted an unblemished 2011-12 season. But it's worth a mention because Ohio was perfect coming into the game and were just three minutes and 31 seconds from winning its toughest game on the schedule. Although the team lost its lead down the stretch, Ohio proved to be a formidable opponent for a top-10 team on its home court. That should give the Bobcats about as much positive momentum going forward as a loss could ever provide.
Butterfingers: So many times throughout the game Ohio had its hands on a "would-be" rebound, steal, loose ball, you name it, yet couldn't hold on. Often times it lead to fast-break points for Louisville as Ohio found itself out of position thinking one of their own had, or would come down, with the ball. Afterwards, head coach John Groce called it "the difference in the game." For the first time this season Ohio was out-rebounded, had more turnovers, and without looking at the tape, Groce conceded that his team lost more of the 50/50 balls. If Ohio was able to hold on to the numerous opportunities they had slip through their fingers, the 'Cats may be feeling the euphoria of a victory over a top-10 opponent for the first time in program history.
Cooper's a bonafide star: Many were surprised when the starting lineups revealed Louisville guard Peyton Siva was playing in Friday's game when all reports said he'd be out at least another week. Even Siva himself was surprised when coach Pitino put his name in the starting lineup 10 minutes before the game. The reason for Siva's rushed return to action: no other Cardinals player could guard D.J. Cooper. While scoreless in the first half, Cooper erupted in the second, and finished with a game-high 16 points, scoring bucket after bucket for a Bobcats team that desperately needed offense down the stretch. Cooper was rated a top-25 point guard by CBS Sports before the season and he played every bit like one in Friday's second half. Louisville head coach Rick Pitino admitted after the game, that without Siva being good enough to go Friday, nobody could have guarded Cooper, and Louisville would have lost that game.
Not easily rattled: Not only was Ohio playing its toughest opponent of the season, they were playing inside of the biggest, loudest venue they will all year. From the pre-game video montage of Louisville highlights overlaying a riveting Pitino pre-game speech, to the lights going out for the announcing of Louisville's starting five, the KFC YUM! Center was electric. Every basket sent the 20,000+ in attendance into a frenzy. I couldn't hear myself think through much of the game, I can only imagine what it was like trying to communicate on the court for this Ohio team. Making matters worse, Louisville went on a dangerous 11-2 spurt with nine minutes remaining. Turning a tie game into a nine point deficit for the Green and White and Groce called a timeout. The place was going ballistic sensing the Cardinals had finally gained complete control of the game. But out of the timeout, Ohio answered with a 17-2 run of its own, quieting the crowd, and proving this team wouldn't go down without a fight.
What's next: No time to dwell on the tough loss as Ohio stays on the road for a Wednesday night matchup in Huntington, W. Va. with rival Marshall. The Thundering Herd are 5-0 this season and are coming off a thrilling overtime victory on the road against Cincinnati. Last season the Herd invaded the Convocation Center and left with a 65-57 victory. It certainly won't be easy for Ohio to return the favor, but if they can hang with seventh-ranked Louisville until the end, I have a feeling Marshall will get all they can handle as well.