Published Sat, Mar 24, 2012 12:52 am Dateline
Updated Sat, Mar 24, 2012 1:58 am
Thinking "What if?" would only prolong the grieving process.
So go ahead, say it over and over to yourself. Don't deny yourself the wonderous heartache.
What if Dj Cooper's halfcourter had gone in? What if Walter Offutt makes that one free throw, which was the only miss of the night for Ohio? What if the Bobcats' bigs weren't totally overmatched in the post? What if...what if...what if...
And you should ask those questions. Let the pain linger, because there's something very-close-to-beautiful about losing the way Ohio did on Friday night in St. Louis.
There's something gorgeous about just knowing that you, fantastic Bobcat crowd, totally owned the night (and even had NC State's and Kansas' sections joining in your party in the stands). There's something amazing about knowing that you, Walter Offutt, deserved to be in the starting five of a major college program, regardless of one excruciating free throw. There's something innately wonderful about not just being there, but being able to be part of the best game of this year's tournament so far. Ohio was closer to being George Mason than being Siena or Bradley. There's something incredible about "Bobcat Nation" proving that it belonged.
You can be the tournament's darling even if you lose.
And after a Herculean effort - which was exactly what it took to compete with North Carolina - that's what Ohio is.
But what if Ohio had beaten UNC?
It would have been the biggest win in program history and one of the biggest upsets ever. It would have come with an asterisk, because Kendall Marshall didn't play - even if Stilman White played zero-turnover basketball. It would have been a win for the "mids" everywhere, and would have turned The Arch green.
But it's beautiful to even be able to imagine that. For North Carolina, this game meant little, in the grand scheme. The fans were apathetic until eight minutes were left in regulation. Even the cheerleaders expected to wipe the floor with Ohio St--..."wait, they're not the Buckeyes?"
A game like this means so much more to the little guy. If you don't believe me, I wish you could access the picture in my head, of Bobcat fans turning the far-side stands into a waving sea of green. It was enough to make any sport romantic cry.
Especially the way it happened. After the game was essentially over with 7:18 to play in the first half (UNC led 26-11), Ohio found its legs, defensively first, offensively second. It avoided a total catastrophe in the first half by being the epitome of the little guy.
Pesky. Ruthlessly pesky.
It forced 13 first half turnovers (24 total). Then, it matched UNC blow-for-blow in the second half, thanks mostly to Offutt's tremendous play and some magical March moments. Ivo Baltic's turnaround jumper in the face of John Henson with a few minutes left? Ridiculous. Nick Kellogg and Offutt shooting 10-15 from 3-point range? Stupid.
Ohio had a four-point lead with less than four minutes remaining, about an hour after many on Twitter were just hoping for "please, God, not a blowout." It very well could have ended that way, even without UNC's point guard. With Marshall, it would have been a massacre. For fans, there should be a bit of emotional masochism in seeing Ohio lose the way it did.
So when you fall asleep tonight, remember this line, by Frank Turner, a singer/songwriter/poet you've probably never heard of.
"Leave the mourning to the morning. Pain can be killed with aspirin tablets and vitamin pills. But memories of hope, and of glorious defeat, are a little bit harder to beat."
After you're done grieving, and you should, you'll keep this team close to your heart...when your right fist hits it between yelling "O" and "H."
And remember that this exact same team returns in nine months.