Updated Tue, Mar 20, 2012 1:53 pm
John Groce has said it all year: The first four minute stretch of the second half is one of the most important stretches of a college basketball game. It sets the tone for the rest of the second half.
In many cases, win the stretch, win the game.
In securing Ohio's first trip to the NCAA Sweet 16 since 1964 - and the first time in the modern era of the tournament - the 'Cats used that stretch to their advantage.
Even after shooting just 30 percent from the field in the first half and trailing 27-21 at the intermission, Ohio's game plan seemingly never changed. It was aided at times by a truly horrid offensive showing by South Florida - when Ohio suffered through an eight-minute scoring drought in the first half, USF could have put the game away but was so inept offensively that it couldn't pull away.
The underdog 'Cats made enough plays to win it, and are no longer just a cute story, but the darlings of the whole tournament.
"Really we didn't do anything differently," Ohio guard Walter Offutt said. "You know, coach told us to come out and swing aggressively from the start, and that's what he had done all year. We haven't changed anything."
Think about this, though: If South Florida wins the first four minute battle of the second half and takes, say, a 10-point lead, in a game in which both teams struggled to average a point per possession, how seemingly insurmountable a deficit is that for the Bobcats?
That made the first possession of the second half infinitely more important than normal.
It was Bulls' ball to start half two. USF worked the ball into the post, where Jon Smith blocked Augustus Gilchrist's shot, forcing a turnover. Two possessions later, Offutt, who made the first bucket of the game, drilled his first shot of the second half and cut the South Florida lead to two.
By the time the next media timeout was called with 15:26 left in the game, Offutt had scored eight of Ohio's first 10 points of the half and helped tie the game at 31. Ultimately, the 'Cats improved to 18-0 when Offutt scores 12 or more points, and became just the third team to beat South Florida when the Bulls led at halftime. Ohio outscored USF 41-29 in the second half.
"I thought Walt making shots at the level that he did to start the second half inspired the other guys," Groce said, of Offutt. "Baltic makes a jumper. Kellogg starts making shots. Cooper makes shots, and it kind of snowballed.
"Basketball is such a momentum game, and the momentum that I thought Walt gave our team offensively early, when he made a couple shots...I thought carried over and throughout the second half."
Won the stretch, won the game.