Published Fri, Mar 16, 2012 11:09 pm Dateline
Updated Sat, Mar 17, 2012 4:53 pm
While March is known for its madness and magic, Walter Offutt was Ohio's rock.
With 2:52 left in the game, and the Bobcats leading by three, a defender blew an assignment on Michigan's Evan Smotrycz, who slashed along the left-side baseline with no one between him and the basket. Out of seemingly nowhere, Offutt met Smotrycz at the basket and pinned the ball on the glass.
Ohio recovered the ball, and the only other points scored in the game were two Offutt free throws with a handful of seconds to go.
Reporters have been asking Ohio head coach John Groce to verbalize what Offutt - a two-time transfer from Ohio State and Wright State - has meant to his program. Groce has always struggled with the question (in a good way). He attempted it again tonight, when asked. Could he do it?
"Probably not," Groce answered, after a long pause. "You know, he's been through an awful lot to get to the situation he's in. He's earned it. It means an awful lot not only to our defense but to our program and how he handles himself as a student athlete, how he handles himself in practice. He competes everyday in practice. He just refuses to see let us have a bad practice. He's what I call a culture changer. You can't possibly put on a stat sheet how valuable he is."
Offutt was part of the crew of guards (and forwards) charged with the assignment of stopping Michigan's Tim Hardaway, Jr. The 'Cats held UM's second-leading scorer to 5-14 shooting and 14 points. The Wolverines had been undefeated when Hardaway shot over 50 percent from the field.
Plus, Offutt is Ohio's most solid defender, and helped hold Michigan to 7-23 from three-point range in the 65-60 win. The Wolverines were 12-2 when shooting over 35 percent from three-point distance.
"Obviously [Offutt] made big plays late in the game, especially on the defensive end," Groce added. "But Walt is one of those guys, I can assure you, he earns everything that he gets and means an awful lot to our team."
Not to mention Offutt's pocket-picking of Smotrycz with less than 10 seconds left, which put the well-traveled junior to the free throw line with a chance to put this particular upset - on an unbelievable Friday in the NCAA Tournament - in the freezer.
"Well, you know, me and [DJ Cooper], we talk about it at home, like being in that situation, what would you do, what will you think about and stuff like that," Offutt said. "We're just like, man, you got to go up there and knock it down and have confidence. That's what I did."
Offutt's journey has been a long one, complete with the double-transfer and sitting out because of the NCAA rule. The junior's patience paid off in an NCAA Tournament win.
"[It would] take me a good 10, 15 minutes to tell the you the process it took to get here," Offutt said, with a smirk. "We have great teammates and having great coaches to be around makes it even better. Obviously, we have a good season. We still want to continue to advance in the tournament.
"It's been an amazing journey. Probably the best thing that ever happened in my life."