Published Sun, Mar 11, 2012 12:15 am Dateline
Updated Mon, Mar 12, 2012 10:05 pm
Dj Cooper leads 'Cats to NCAA Tournament Berth, but Bench Key in Win
John Groce has said all year that "this is the deepest team I've ever had." That depth is one of the main reasons Ohio is back in the dance. This year's Bobcats team is led by Cooper. He and Walter Offutt are the only two "stars" on the team; the only two guys that could take over a game and win it for Ohio on a given night. The rest of the roster is filled with role players. Groce has said all season "these guys have bought into their roles," and it may sound like coach speak, but it is looking more and more like the truth.
Cooper led Ohio with 23 points and and six assists in the Bobcats 64-63 win over Akron in the MAC Championship Game. He was unreal. He was 8-16 from the field, 4-9 from deep including the shot of the tournament with the shot clock ticking to to zero and a defender draped all over him. That is a shot that probably goes in one out of 100 times (that one time almost always seems to come in March).
Beyond Cooper, no Bobcat player was in double figures. Ohio's win was propelled by role players doing exactly that, playing their role.
Ivo Baltic and Nick Kellogg had the second most points for Ohio with nine points each. Baltic shot 4-7 from the field including a three pointer in the second half. He should probably return to the blocks where he's done most of his scoring this season, but he had the hot, mid-range hand in Cleveland. Baltic on the defensive end recorded a block, three of his four total rebounds, and was part of the rotation that held Zeke Marshall and Nikola Cvetinovc to eight and four points respectively.
Kellogg's role on this team is to be Tommy Freeman's replacement on offense; a spot up sharpshooter from distance. Kellogg also provides an in-your-pocket defender on the perimeter for Groce on the defensive end. He was 3-6 from behind the arc for nine points against the Zips, and all three makes seemed to come at crucial points in the ball game.
T.J. Hall and Reggie Keely both chipped in eight points for the Bobcats. Hall played arguably his best stretch of games this season, especially the last two. He scored 13 points including three treys in Ohio's 77-74 win over Buffalo in the MAC semi's and nabbed six rebounds in the three-point win.
Keely also dropped in eight points on the Zips and hauled in seven rebounds. The stat line doesn't do Keely's game on Saturday justice however. He had THE rebound and THE free throws that iced the game. After Akron's Alex Abreu stole the ball away from Walter Offutt, the Zips had the ball with 32 seconds left down 62-61. The Zips burned sometime, ran their offense and Brian Walsh had an open look from just inside the three-point line with nine seconds remaining. His jumper went in-and-out, Keely slapped the ball off the backboard, got it back off the ricochet, and outmuscled Marshall for the biggest rebound of the tournament. Keely was immediately fouled and erased the demons from Buffalo the night before--where he missed two key free throws inside the final minute--by draining both shots, putting the 'Cats up 64-61 with six seconds remaining before a bid to the NCAA Tournament. Keely also had one block on defense and was an integral part of shutting down the Zips seven-footer.