Three Key Takeaways.
- Ohio’s Guards were Fantastic. It’s not easy to win a third round game in the NCAA Tournament when you get 11 points from your frontcourt. But that’s exactly what Ohio did tonight, thanks to its stellar backcourt and the outstanding performances of D.J. Cooper and Walter Offutt. The pair combined for 40 of Ohio’s 62 points and got nine more from the team’s third starting guard, Nick Kellogg. South Florida did a much better job than Michigan of disrupting the flow of Ohio’s offense, especially in taking Ohio forward Ivo Baltic and the rest of the Bobcat frontcourt out of the game, but the Bobcats shot 50% from the floor in the second half and were able to get more open looks. The Bobcat backcourt was simply too good on this night, and Cooper and Offutt are the biggest reason Ohio is moving on to its first Sweet Sixteen since 1964.
- Five-point Possessions turn Game. It’s not often that you see a five-point possession in a game. It’s downright rare that you see two in one half, but Ohio had two such possessions in the second half and they were game changers. The first came with 16:03 remaining when Victor Rudd, Jr., was called for an intentional foul on Walter Offutt after he grabbed Offutt on the perimeter. Offutt made both free throws and then knocked down a three from the left corner to tie the game. Then, with 9:23 left, Jawanza Poland was on the receiving end of a beautiful alley-oop pass from Collins and was called for hanging on the rim by referee Tony Greene. It was a questionable call, and it took away South Florida’s momentum. The Bulls had taken a 42-37 lead on the play, but Kellogg knocked down both technical free throws and made a three to tie it back up. The play sparked a 19-6 run that gave Ohio a lead it would not relinquish.
- South Florida’s Offense not Enough. The Bulls play ugly and get the job done on the defensive end. Offensively, though, they simply weren’t worthy of a Sweet Sixteen run, especially on the perimeter. For the game, South Florida went 2-15 from three-point range, and many of those misses came on good looks. Had they been able to knock down a few more of those shots, the early second half lead may have been too much for Ohio to overcome. Instead, their inability to make enough shots ended the Bulls’ season.
Star of the Game. Walter Offutt, Ohio. The Bobcat junior, who spent his first two years at Ohio State, showed why he was a high-major recruit in this game, going 7-9 from the field and scoring 21 points. He hit all four of his three-point attempts. This honor easily could have gone to Cooper, who had 19 points and seven assists, but on this night, Offutt provided the offensive spark that carried the Bobcats to St. Louis.
Quotable. “I don’t ever want to blame one play, but it certainly changed the momentum. All season long, we didn’t let one play bother us, but we did here. The response was not normal for us.” – South Florida Coach Stan Heath, on Poland’s technical.
Sights and Sounds. St. Patrick’s Day came a day late, as green was everywhere in this one. Even the NCAA got into the act, assigning referee Tony Greene to the game.
Wildcard. In the Twitter era, news travels fast. At halftime, the media room was abuzz with word of North Carolina guard Kendall Marshall‘s fractured wrist, and the general consensus was that the Tar Heels’ chances of winning the national title are over if Marshall can’t play or perform at his usual high level.
What’s Next? Ohio has a huge challenge ahead, as it gets to take on the region’s top seed, North Carolina. Of course, no one knows what the Tar Heels will look like at this point, given Marshall’s injury. Still, despite the fact that Ohio’s backcourt is superb, the Bobcats’ lack of size will be a big problem against the huge North Carolina front line.