Published Mon, Mar 19, 2012 12:44 am Dateline
16. Shot Clock Struggles…With around 8:30 left in the first half, Ohio was down 16-12 in what was becoming a grueling game. South Florida, which had been taking an unnatural joy in forcing their opposition’s offense awry, was suffocating Dj Cooper. As the shot clock wound down, Cooper passed it off to T.J. Hall who barely could get a dribble let alone a shot off before the buzzer sounded.
South Florida’s bench sprung to its feet in praise of the act. This wasn’t a windmill dunk. It wasn’t midnight on New Years. Heck, it wasn’t even a 90-second oboe solo at an off Broadway musical. It was five guys executing raw basketball fundamentals for 35 stifling seconds. That is precisely what the Bobcats were up against Sunday night.
15. Free throws? Sounds like a good time… After nearly eight minutes of scoreless basketball, Walter Offutt earned himself a trip to the free throw line to end the monotony with 6:19 to go in the first half. He made one of two free throws, but it was safely the most exhilarating thing Bobcat fans had seen for a solid half-hour. Relative to the eight minutes leading up to the made free throw, it pretty much felt like he had just knocked down a half-court three with the ball on fire from a unicycle. And got fouled.
14. Only in March… I want to tell you that this is the part where I write about T.J. Hall completely irrationally hitting a clutch three, but it is no longer illogical. It was a funny and relevant joke throughout the MAC tournament. Friday night against Michigan it started to get a little creepy. Now, it’s haunting me. Down six and still fighting through drought-like conditions, Cooper whipped the ball to Hall who promptly nailed a 3-pointer with just over three minutes left in the first half. I’d say the month of March has turned Hall into a shooter, but I think what its really done is turned Bobcat fans and myself into believers.
13. Food, water, and oxygen? Forget fresh air. With the Bobcats down 25-18 and being smothered by South Florida’s defense they would have settles for any air. South Florida had five human exhaust pipes flying around the floor for the first 20 minutes. Ohio had no space to shoot and air was hardly an option. Every South Florida physician watching this was probably chanting “adult onset asthma.”
It was at this point in the game where Dj Cooper showed a comprehensive disregard for one of the basic necessities of life. He elevated from the corner and knocked down a fearless three with South Florida guard Anthony Collins' hand essentially enveloping his face. He didn’t need an inhaler. He didn’t need an oxygen tank. He didn’t even need the rim. He buried it.
12. Flagrance…South Florida forward Victor Rudd, Jr. got called for an intentional foul early in the second half - for tugging on Walter Offutt’s jersey. Offutt made both free throws then proceeded to hit a three. The possession instantly erased what had been a 31-26 South Florida lead.
As for the flagrant call, well let’s take this one to a higher authority - the dictionary (and you thought I was going to pull out the NCAA rule book). There are several versions of this, but here is an easy one: “conspicuously or obviously offensive.” Find me a culture where shirt tug is offensive. If you were able to, congratulations, but I bet it wasn’t “college basketball culture.” On my way to grimace uncomfortably at the media meatloaf during halftime (by "grimace uncomfortably" I mean not eat), I accidentally grazed past a colleague, lightly bumping him on the shoulder. By this standard I should be banned from the arena.
11. Wily veteran schools freshman….With a little over 14 minutes to go in the game, Dj Cooper had the ball in the backcourt. He picked up his dribble and set up to launch one of his infamous threes from (insert intergalactic nebula). Collins catapulted in the air doing his standard larynx lockdown defensive routine and again preventing Cooper from enjoying the simple things in life like air and space.
But Cooper was craftier than the young guard this time. He pulled back his initial shooting motion when he saw Collins take flight and lifted off a half second later. Collins was charged with a foul and Cooper hit two of three free throws. It was truly a veteran move.
10. The Energy Guy….There’s always a token guy in groups. Small businesses have their numbers guy. Movie casts have their bad guy. Ohio has its energy guy. Stevie Taylor came up with an enormous play in his three minutes of playing time. He swiped the ball away from South Florida’s backup point guard and took the ball the length of the floor for a layup. Ohio’s backup point guard, who looks like Sonic the Hedgehog in transition (he may have actually rolled for the last 15 feet of his drive to the rim), not only held down the fort while Cooper rested - he built onto it.
9. Technically not a technical….South Florida’s Jawanza Poland was called for a technical in the second half for hanging on the rim too long after a dunk. He went up and finished an electrifying two handed jam, swung around for less than a second, and gracefully landed on the floor to an unfriendly whistle from an official.
This is becoming one of the more alarming aspects of officiating basketball. There seems to be a hazy area between players showing off and players assuring themselves a safe landing. Poland’s dunk seemed to be more of the latter if anything. It would be crass of me to say I’m a regular Isaac Newton, but I am familiar with the concept of gravity. It can be cruel to someone hanging seven feet above the ground with momentum taking them to a place where balance will leave them. Nonetheless, Nick Kellogg hit two free throws to bring Ohio to within 42-39 and setting up…
8. This. Doesn’t. Happen…After hitting the free throws, Kellogg took another astute Cooper pass and converted it into a three pointer - tying the game at 42. So, twice in seven minutes, Ohio turned questionable calls into five-point possessions with the same player hitting two free throws and a three to tie the game. Things got weird in Nashville Sunday night.
7. A Lead…..Down 46-44, Cooper did what he did best and dished a ball out to a red hot Walter Offutt for a three-pointer that gave Ohio the lead they would never relinquish. At this point Offutt was probably folk hero in Athens, Panama City, Nashville, or wherever Bobcat fans were gathered. The scariest part was he wasn’t even close to done.
6. Weeeee…..Ron Anderson, Jr. got to the line for a one-and-one opportunity the next possession. It was dangerous in that not only could he tie the game back up but that South Florida could get an offensive rebound on a miss and convert it into points as well. Instead, Anderson completely croaked when he got to the line. His free throw fell woefully short of hitting anything of or related to the basketball hoop. Remember that gravity thing? Yea, it’s pretty cruel.
5 . Dagger?...Three days after the Ides of March, Nick Kellogg delivered the “Et tu, Brute?” moment of the of the tourney for Ohio. He followed up Offutt’s scoreboard seizing shot with a three of his own to put Ohio ahead 50-46. It was sort of like he was cross-referencing Offutt’s three. It was like a follow up phone call after an interview. It was Kellogg making sure the Bulls knew the Bobcats had arrived. And as for who got the assist? Give it a wild guess.
4. Goodbye to you… Here is the part where Walter Offutt reasserted himself into the action. He took a mean jab step with his pivot foot to the right then dropped down a dribble and shot off to the left for an open layup to extend the lead to six.
The reason the layup was open was because his foot fake sent the defender packing. He was lost. By the end of the drive to the hoop, the defender looked like Tom Hanks in castaway. Barbasol was trying to hop over NCAA loopholes and sign him to an endorsement deal. Even Offutt looked was taken aback by it. He kind of had the Home Alone “Where’s Kevin?” moment as he finished the layup. The defender was AWOL. MIA. Probably not even in the arena anymore.
3. Too good….Up 56-51 late in the game, Ohio was again struggling to navigate through the Great Wall of South Florida. Dj Cooper dribbled. And dribbled. And kept dribbling for 34 seconds before finding some ungodly way to toss up a floater before the end of the shot clock. Just getting a shot off would have been huge because as Ohio learned early nothing ignites the South Florida bench like a fledgling 35 seconds of Ohio frustration. Cooper’s heave floated flawlessly through the air and subsequently through the net.
2. Coach on the Court…The lead dwindled down to five again and on the ensuing inbound Cooper found himself trapped in the corner by two South Florida forwards. One thing was clear the instant it happened. Even Cooper couldn’t handle more than one South Florida swarmers at once. Avoiding all confrontation and embracing his inner passivity amidst one of the most intense moments of his career, Cooper coolly and calmly called a timeout. Was this a play? Absolutely not. Should it be on this list of key plays? We could craft a pretty thorough argument that it shouldn’t. But it’s hard to imagine a better move for the Bobcats in that very moment.
1. Mr. Everything…South Florida’s last ditch attempt to get in the game drew iron and fell haplessly into the hands of Dj Cooper. He got fouled, hit one of two free throws, and punched Ohio’s ticket to St. Louis. It was one of his six rebounds on the night, the most of any Bobcat. From his point guard spot, Cooper gave Ohio 19 points, seven assists, and six rebounds. Everything and anything ran through him Sunday night. And all of it is still running.
Straight to St. Louis.