Men’s Basketball: Oh, How Sweet It Is! ‘Cats Beat South Florida, Advance To St. Louis

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Video courtesy of CBS Sports/Turner Broadcasting (via CNN News Source)

In the 48 hours leading up to Sunday's third-round clash, all the attention was put on South Florida's freakish size and athleticism, its defense – which hadn't allowed a team to score 60 points in 12 straight games – and its slow-it-down style, which makes every possession so valuable. But what most forgot to mention is Ohio's seemingly endless ability to adapt its game to any style, whether it be high-paced (88-77 over Buffalo) or a drag it out battle to the end (56-51 over Western Michigan).

And hey – these Bobcats can play a little defense themselves.

Here's a look at Ohio's Sweet 16 clinching 62-56 win over South Florida.

Overview: In the first half, it certainly looked like South Florida's size, length, and defense was bothering Ohio. After grabbing a 12-6 lead early, Ohio went over eight minutes without a field goal, allowing the Bulls to go on a 10-0 run to claim a 16-12 lead with 9:05 remaining in the first half. The final nine minutes weren't any easier, but Ohio kept battling. The 'Cats trailed by just six points at the half despite scoring just 21 points on 30 percent shooting, becoming the 22nd team this season South Florida held to under 25 points in the first half.

The second half was a different story. Ohio sprinted out of the gate on a 10-4 run to tie things at 31 at the under 16 media timeout. The teams began trading baskets before South Florida used a 7-2 run to claim a 42-37 lead with 9:25 remaining, highlighted by a an alley-oop dunk from Anthony Collins to Jawanza Poland. But a technical foul was called on Poland for hanging on the rim and Ohio rallied.

Behind six straight points from Nick Kellogg (two coming on the ensuing technical foul free throws), Ohio took the lead 43-42. After free throws by Augustus Gilchrist and a lay-up by Collins, South Florida retook the lead 46-44 before Walter Offutt knocked down a huge three-pointer for Ohio, giving the 'Cats a one-point lead they would never relinquish, eventually leading by as many as nine points before pulling out the six point win.

"Really proud of our guys, the way the fought," head coach John Groce said after the game. "Obviously its a big win for our program, advancing to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1964. I'm happy for a lot of people, our families…happy for the university, I'm happy for Athens. It's a special place."

"This is amazing," a jubilant Walter Offutt said in the postgame press conference. "Its one thing to talk about it [advancing to the Sweet 16] but another thing to do it. This has been unreal. Lets just continue this run."

In all, Ohio scored 41 points in the second half, led by Offutt and Cooper who scored 40 points collectively. In all, Ohio shot just under 40 percent (17-43) for the game, including 50 percent (9-18) from downtown while holding South Florida to 43 percent shooting and 13 percent from three.

Turning Point: It's hard not to think the technical foul called on Poland changed the complexion of this game. Similar to Ohio's MAC semifinal victory over Buffalo that turned when Mitchell Watt was called for an identical technical foul before half that sent Ohio on a 7-0 run into the locker room, Ohio used Sunday's technical as a means to go on a 25-14 run to close the game after that momentum-changing call.

"I don't want to blame one play on deciding the game, but it certainly changed momentum," South Florida head coach Stan Heath said afterwards. "I don't think we handled the response. At the end of the day that was the difference in the game."

Key Stat: Ohio's hot three point shooting (9-18) compared to the lack there of for South Florida (2-15). Both teams entered the contest ranked in the top-15 nationally in three-point defense (USF-10, Oho-14) but tonight only Ohio's rose to the occasion. Behind a perfect 4-of-4 from Walter Offutt, the Bobcats hit nine triples and were able to overcome their lack of size compared to South Florida (they were out-rebounded 33-25), with deadly outside shooting.

Key Players: Walter Offutt and Dj Cooper. Both players bailed Ohio out of so many tough possessions with big basket after big basket. Offutt lead all scorers with 21 points while Cooper scored 19 and dished out 7 assists including another clutch, shot-clock buzzer beating basket that broke South Florida's back with 1:34 remaining to give Ohio a seven point lead.

"I actually was about to shoot the three," Cooper revealed afterwards. "But I know coach wouldn't have been happy with me taking a long three like that that deep in the clock, so I just tried to attack. I stepped up and knocked it down."

Up Next: Ohio travels down I-70 to St. Louis to take on top-seeded North Carolina in the Midwest Regional semi-finals. The Tar Heels have beaten 16-seeded Vermont and eight-seeded Creighton to reach the Sweet 16, but their victory over the Jays may have come at a cost, as point guard Kendall Marshall broke his right wrist in the game. He continued to play after, but his status will be questionable all week. Marshall will have surgery on Monday and is questionable for Friday night's game in St. Louis.