MAC Title Game Recap: Ohio Wins in OT

March 14th, 2010
hese championship weeks of college basketball teach us yearly that anything is possible, but more than that, they illustrate the fact that those things that do happen can happen fast.  In the five second blur that was OU point guard DJ Cooper racing down the court like Tyus Edney to beat the halftime buzzer, is as quickly as his ninth seeded Bobcat team would go to the locker room leading 36-34.  And as rapidly as it later looked the regulation clock would tick away on Akron’s chances at their second MAC title in as many years, is as fast as big shot maker Steve McNees would then tie things up at 68 to send it to overtime. 


In overtime, with an eternity to play, you couldn’t help but remember how far it seemed the Ohio University Bobcats were from a championship caliber team a week ago.  Not only was their regular season win total not worthy of a first round bye, as the nine-seed, they were forced to play their opening round of the tournament at Ball State.  They won their first game in OT, man-handled the league champs (Kent) in their next one, beat their arch-rivals (Miami) in the third, and then the defending tourney champs in overtime tonight.  And in four short games, what was once maybe a year away for this young club with only one senior, was now only a week.   They’re going to the Big Dance right now, simply because they didn’t want to wait any longer for an invitation.


OU Coach John Groce on the win:

 I’m really proud of our guys, and especially proud of the way we finished.  When they hit that shot to send it to overtime, I told our guys just don’t blink, stay poised, and they did that.  It’s a heckofa win for our guys, and a great win for our University.”


It was a heckofa  game to be seated courtside for as well.  As a basketball fan, there’s no more than could’ve been asked of a conference championship game on any level.  This one went back and forth all night long, and you’re not going to find a group of kids tougher than the ones that battled this one out tonight.  The storylines are endless, but we’ll start with OU’s freshman point guard from Chicago.


DJ Cooper was the MAC’s Freshman of the Year coming into this tournament, but in the two games leading up to the Conference Finals he scored less than 10 points.  He had averaged 13.5 per game during the regular season, and the reports were that he was banged up.  It showed.  But it didn’t show tonight.  While the talk coming into the Finals was the emergence of DeVaughn Washington, DJ Cooper would be the Bobcat to show up tonight alongside teammate Armon Bassett, and he picked the right time to do so.  He finished with 23 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists, and while those numbers certainly dwarfed his production prior to tonight, his play came as no surprise to his teammate - and tournament MVP - Armon Bassett:

“He’s [Cooper] a special player, and other than John Wall there’s no other freshman point guard in the country putting up the numbers that he’s putting up.  He’s been banged up, but I knew he’d show up tonight, and he did, right on time.”


Bassett himself showed up again tonight as he added a 25-point performance to the total of 91 points he’d already scored coming into the game which was good enough to break Earl Boykins’ previous tournament scoring total of 89.  The new record Bassett set – 116 total points – is going to stand for a long time.  But not nearly as long as it seems it might take for him to put down the MAC Championship Trophy he took the podium with after the game.  When asked when he thinks he’ll set the hardware down, he indicated it might be a while.


More from Bassett:

“I don’t know, I guess when Coach takes it from me.  I got a pretty firm grip on it.”


On the flip side, that firm grip is the same one the Akron Zips now have on dealing with a defeat in a game that slipped from their grasp as surely as the ball seemed to slide off the iron all night long.  Akron out-shot OU 78 to 60, but they did so at a clip of 36% from the field by game’s end.  To complicate matters, they shot it even worse from three point range finishing there at 27%.  The Bobcats shot 47% from the field, and it proved to be as simple as that in deciding this one.  But that’s not to say Akron was without their moments.


Junior guard Steve McNees, who sent their quarterfinal game into double OT with a three pointer at the buzzer of the first OT on Thursday, hit another one on Saturday with 6 seconds to go while staring defeat directly in the face down three.  He’d hit another one in OT, but for the game, he only connected on 4 of 13 to finish with 12.  Chris McKnight and Jimmy Conyers finished with 18 and 19 points respectively, but they too combined to shoot only 13 of 29 from the field.  They both hit the glass with a vengeance though, grabbing 22 rebounds between them, and it was that tenacity on the boards which led OU Coach John Groce to opt to not foul McNees in the waning seconds of regulation up three. 


OU Coach John Groce on that decision, and his exchange with McNees after the game:

“I have a lot of respect for Steve, I think he plays hard, I think he plays to win and he made a really big shot there.  I probably should have fouled him, but I just didn’t want to put them on the line.  They’re a good rebounding team, and McKnight especially is capable of coming up with a rebound, so I thought I’d roll the dice, and McNees hit a big shot.  I think he’s a really tough kid, and I think he’s a smart basketball player, and I really enjoyed watching him on film, and that was basically the exchange I had with him after the game.”    


Akron’s seniors – McKnight and Conyers – closed out their careers as the only class in MAC history to make it to the championship game in each of their four years.  The loss will be tough, but the Zips program revitalized under Coach Keith Dambrot will be around for a while.  He’s built something that will last in Akron, and something that hadn’t been there before his arrival.  But it will take him and his guys sometime to move past this one. 


Akron Coach Keith Dambrot after the game:

“We just had some things not go our way and we didn’t shoot the ball really well.  We battled though, and I was really proud of that.  We went after the offensive rebounds all night, and we took good shots, we just didn’t make them.   Take no credit away from OU though because they’re a good team, and I’m really happy for them in what they’ve done.  They’ve got some good players, and those are two good guards.  Our effort was great, we just didn’t have it tonight.”


OU did have it tonight though, and as quickly as they got here, is as quickly as they’ll move to the NCAA tournament.  They only thing they’ll wait for now is the announcement of their opponent on selection Sunday.


All Tournament Team:

My vote for All Tournament team, as submitted, was as follows…

David Kool (Western Michigan)

Carlos Medlock (Eastern Michigan)

Armon Bassett (Ohio University)

Chris McKnight (Akron)

Steve McNees (Akron)

My Tournament MVP:  Armon Bassett


When the Votes were tallied, the official tournament team was as follows:

David Kool (Western Michigan)

Carlos Medlock (Eastern Michigan)

Armon Bassett (Ohio University)

Chris McKnight (Akron)

Jimmy Conyers (Akron)

The MAC Tournament MVP:  Armon Bassett


Ohio U on your bracket sheet: 

Ohio University’s not going to the sweet sixteen this year, but they are a team that is absolutely capable of winning a game.  Don’t let their record and seed fool you when the brackets come out.  In the right match-up – meaning one where they have an edge at the guard position – they could pull a first round upset.  Armon Bassett started his career at Indiana, and played well as a freshman, and he’s playing the best basketball of his life right now as a junior.  He can get points on anybody, and DJ Cooper is a deceptively long little point guard that can fly.  Guard play wins games in the NCAA tournament, and OU’s strength is its two outstanding guards.  Keep an eye out for the Bobcats in round one.