Updated Wed, Mar 20, 2013 7:10 pm
The winningest class in Ohio men’s basketball history saw their careers come to an end Tuesday night, as the Bobcats lost in the first round of the NIT, 61-57, on the road to Denver.
Ohio went to their seniors late in the game, looking for a piece of magic that they’ve had all throughout their careers, but when they needed it the most, the basketball just didn’t fall through the net.
Ohio was down one with 21 seconds on the clock when D.J. Cooper drove to the hoop with a chance to retake the lead. Cooper had hit several game changing shots throughout his senior year, but Chris Udofia wasn’t about to let him attack the rim so easily.
The junior got one of his three blocks, as he contested Cooper and forced the miss. Chase Hallam corralled the rebound and was fouled immediately by Reggie Keely. Hallam went 1-of-2 from the free throw line to give the Pioneers the two-point lead with 19 seconds remaining. The Bobcats had a chance to tie or retake the lead in their final possession.
Ohio drew up a play where they found Keely inside, where he had dominated throughout the game with 12 points, but this time, Keely’s shot didn’t fall through.
Udofia rebounded the ball, and before Ohio could foul, Jalen Love had found Royce O’Neale down the court for the seal-the-deal two-handed slam.
The careers of Cooper, Keely, and the three other seniors on Ohio were done just like that.
Ohio held the lead at the 7:04 mark, after a Keely layup put the Bobcats up, 53-51, but Ohio went on a four-minute scoring drought where Denver built a four-point lead with 3:20 remaining.
Cooper ended the Denver 6-0 run with a deep three-pointer that put Ohio within two with 3:03 left in the game. However, that was the senior’s last shot made in his career and Ohio only made one field goal in the remaining three minutes.
Cooper finished with 16 points, but outside of him and Keely, Travis Wilkins was the only other player to score more than four points, pouring in eight on the night.
The rest of the starters scored a total of seven points on 3-of-9 shooting.
Redshirt senior guard Walter Offutt didn’t take one shot attempt the entire game. After having two straight games of 11 rebounds, Offutt only three in 36 minutes against Denver.
Although Ohio outrebounded the Pioneers by 11, it was evident that the Bobcats weren’t as prepared as they had wished for the Princeton offensive strategy. Backdoor cuts were the Pioneers’ specialty, with Udofia and O’Neale picking up 14 and 15 points, respectively.
Denver’s efficient offense also limited the Bobcats’ chances to get fast break points, as they were only able to swipe two steals and two blocks. The Pioneers, on the other hand, had 10 steals and 10 blocks.
The senior class finished with 93 wins and three NCAA Tournament victories throughout their careers. Cooper completed his career with numbers that have never been accomplished before with 2,091 points, 938 assists, 623 rebounds and 327 steals. Ivo Baltic and Keely scored over 1,000 points in their career and Offutt finished his two years at Ohio with 817.
The senior class pictured themselves exiting the city of Athens with a greater celebration, but their expectations came up short this season, as the Bobcats finished 24-10 and lost in the first round of the NIT.
An era filled with great players ends, opening the gates for a new one to begin.