Updated Sat, Mar 17, 2012 4:44 pm
Irrevocable ecstasy. Irrefutable elation. Distinct defiance.
All were exuded instantly from Ohio Bobcats faithful as the final buzzer sounded on their 65-60 upset of fourth-seeded Michigan.
In a game sandwiched between two monumental upsets in the college basketball landscape, Ohio gave fans and casual observers across the nation a team to believe in. Player by player, possession-by-possession, Ohio rewrote the blueprint for Cinderella style upsets in March. They played nine different guys against a team from the best conference in the country, and none of them disappointed. It was the perfect storm.
In ascending order of minutes played, here is how nine kids from a rural southeast Ohio school captured the eyes of the nation.
- Stevie Taylor: Every minute Dj Cooper spends off the court should seem like an hour. Taylor refused to let that feeling take hold Friday night in his three minutes of play. Bobbing around with his habitual buoyancy, Stevie sustained the Ohio offense long enough to give the legendary legs of Dj Cooper all the rest they would need. He even managed to sneak in one (or more) of his infectious grins before his day was done.
- Ricardo Johnson: With his natural strength and menacing defensive mindset, Johnson neutralized Michigan superstar Tim Hardaway Jr.
Almost in a perpetual wall sit for his seven minute stint, Johnson was able to stay down on defense long enough to create a key turnover for the ‘Cats.
- T.J. Hall: There is no way on Rufus’ hunter green Earth that T.J. Hall had any business making a three in the second half of the biggest game of his life. He was dreadful from there nearly all season (28 percent) but went through the hardly rational renaissance midway through the MAC tournament last week.
With just over a minute left, he saved the game by performing the most inglorious act in the game of basketball - the closeout. Michigan sharpshooter Zack Novak, who essentially evaporated early on in this game (2 points on 1-6 shooting), got an open look at a game tying three from the corner. Hall barreled out from the lane, sprung into the air with an arm extended, and soared through Novak’s line of vision. The shot rimmed out.
- Reggie Keely: As the consensus "strongest big man" on Ohio’s roster, it is somewhat shocking that showing his soft side as his strongest contribution to the upset. A few things never seem to happen. Superheroes don’t wine and dine villains. Black belts don’t polish wooden boards. John Groce doesn’t eat at the Convocation Center’s scorer’s table. And big guys don’t get charge calls. However, with just under five minutes to go, Keely stepped up and took a huge one against Michigan forward Evan Smotrycz. Add in 10 gritty points and perfection from the line (yes, this is still the Keely section - perfect storm) and Keely had another game to remember, after a fantastic MAC Tournament run.
- Jon Smith: Smith’s length was enough to disrupt any and every attempt at a post presence from Michigan. With each passing altered shot or deflected pass, Smith is adding to his lanky lore. He even trumped Hall’s “excellent execution of one of the ugliest intricacies of basketball” card. By hedging well off screens Smith slowed star freshman point guard Trey Burke significantly. Every time his man stiffened up to set a screen during Smith’s 21 minutes in the game, Ohio’s starting center would whip around the pick and serve as a temporary octagonal street sign in the Wolverine’s backcourt.
- Walter Offutt: It’s almost like Offutt did everything he could to make sure I couldn’t write this column. In the last 10 minutes of the game, everything he did seemed to be the biggest Bobcat play of the game. He made a couple cunning drives to the hoop for clutch buckets. He absorbed a driving Michigan shoulder for a huge foul call. And perhaps most puzzling of all, he found himself elevating in the lane to send what seemed to be a surefire Michigan layup on a little joyride through the cool air of Bridgestone Arena.
- Nick Kellogg: Let’s go over a few more rules to make this simple. A spinach recall is never going to lose you a good salad. A clean comb over is never going to lose you a girlfriend. A Wednesday night at Lucky’s is never going to lose you a passing grade in Sociology. And Nick Kellogg is never going to lose you a basketball game. Hands down. His two threes were momentum springboards.
Which brings me back to this—who is having the better March: Nick or his dad? Clark interviews Obama. Nick upsets Michigan. Let’s just say no one's losing in this one.
- Ivo Baltic: Baltic had a stupid grin on from start to finish in this one. And by stupid I mean wonderful. There was a guy relishing the big stage. He beamed when his teammates hit a three. He giggled when Ohio fans chanted “Daddy’s Boy” to Tim Hardaway Jr. And he nearly knocked his ears off with the corners of his lips every time he knocked down a slightly unbalanced mid-range jump shot.
Not only was Baltic smiling all game, but basketball purists everywhere were salivating. To a basketball fan, seeing a post player knock down a mid range is like Dumbledore watching Harry Potter levitate a lit lantern. It’s like a lunch lady watching a third grader devour her brittle breadsticks. It’s not a sexy shot, but it was imperative for Ohio Friday night.
- DJ Cooper: Cooper is an instant legend - just add water (and do so in the month of March). What he helped accomplish two years ago put Ohio University basketball on the map. What he did Friday night nullified the need for a map. In his best game of the year, and in the biggest moment of his career, Cooper carried the ‘Cats to another level.
He was cold-blooded from three. He was deadly off the dribble. And when it came down to grinding it out on defense he held his red-hot counterpart scoreless for the last four minutes of the game.
John Groce was nonchalant with his mannerisms in the post game. It is hard to imagine that he did not realize that his players put together the perfect storm Friday night in Nashville. It’s even harder to imagine that he did not realize that the air is ripe for another disturbance on Sunday.