With 31.7 seconds remaining in overtime, and Ohio trailing by two, Bobcats star point guard D.J. Cooper fouled out. The player whom “BobcatNation” had come to expect to hit the big shot to win a close game was forced to watch the game’s most pivotal possession from the sideline.
In stepped Stevie Taylor, the generously listed 5-foot-10- inch guard, who had played just six minutes in the game and was scoreless.
Head coach Jim Christian drew up a play for Walter Offutt to score the winning bucket. Offutt drove into the paint and saw Taylor wide open behind the arc. The former Lincoln Golden Lion standout caught the pass, glanced at the basket and calmly rose up and knocked down the game-winning jumper.
“Coop is obviously our main point guard, a senior, a leader of this team,” Taylor said. “My job is to be ready and if my number is called on then to step up.”
After the basket, Nick Kellogg and Walter Offutt combined to force a steal that culminated in a Kellogg layup as time expired and the Bobcats held on to beat Kent State 78-75.
The game started sloppily for both teams. Through the first 17 minutes and 30 seconds of play, Kent State (14-12, 5-7) registered just one assist as a team, yet led the Bobcats 23-20. For Ohio, the MAC’s all-time leading assist man, Cooper, had zero assists and four turnovers; then suddenly, Cooper hit the switch.
The senior guard crossed up Kellon Thomas and then niftily hit a backdoor cutting Kellogg. Five seconds later, Cooper stole the ball from Thomas, dribbled up the court on the fast break, found his spot on the wing in front of the Golden Flash bench and buried a three.
Cooper was not done, though. In the waning moments of the first half, he and Walter Offutt combined to force a steal. Offutt passed it up to Cooper, who hit a thirty-footer as the clock expired, and the ‘Cats went into the half leading 31-26.
For as well as Cooper was playing on the court, he was battling as much off of it.
“He was throwing up during the game, we had to slide the trash can over there for him, and throw up and get back out there, he was huge for us,” Christian said.
Cooper dished two more of his seven assists in the first 51 seconds of the second half, giving Ohio (19-6, 10-1) a ten-point lead.
Ohio’s largest lead would be 15, but the Golden Flashes found a way to fight their way back into the game behind Chris Evans and Randal Holt.
Evans hit a jumper with 7:34 remaining in the game to cut the lead to 61-52. After a media timeout, Randal Holt hit a three and then executed a three-on-one break that ended in an Evans dunk. Evans then connected on a three on the next possession to make it a one-point game. Mark Henninger then hit an inside jumper to give Kent State a 62-61 lead after a 12-0 run over two minutes and 11 seconds. Christian wasn’t angry with his team, instead offering praise to the Flashes.
“I don’t blame us for that. I give Kent credit, Kent has a lot of pride, I know that, I know how hard they work,” Christian said of his former team.
Cooper would make a free throw to stop the run, and Evans would match him to give the Flashes a 63-62 lead. With Ohio continuing to sputter, a player that was struggling immensely would get Ohio out of their funk.
T.J. Hall had air-balled his last three shots, but he stepped into his next one, a three pointer from the wing, and buried it to give Ohio the 65-63 lead.
“It’s pretty easy to forget the first half when you got guys (Cooper and Offutt) in your ear, keep shooting, keep shooting. They get more mad for not shooting than missing,” Hall said.
Kris Brewer and Kellogg then exchanged layups before Randal Holt hit a jumper to tie it back up. Earlier in the game, Reggie Keely became the 35th Bobcat to score 1,000 points, but he missed a baby hook shot with 33 seconds to play. After securing the rebound, Kent State had a chance to win the game, but they did not get a shot off because Mark Henninger fired a pass into the student section.
Cooper almost connected on a half-court buzzer beater, but it rimmed out, and the fiercely competitive contest went into overtime.
Evans carried Kent State in the extra session, making a layup and a dunk. For Ohio, it was their toughest player, Walter Offutt, who kept them alive.
When Ohio started settling for threes in the first half, Offutt broke the trend and started getting to the free-throw line. The senior guard finished with 17 points and shot 9-for-11 at the charity stripe.
In the extra-session, Offutt played great defense, earning two steals, and while guarded tightly,
drove left and faded out of bounds to hit a pretty jump shot to give Ohio a 72-71 lead. However, the biggest play Offutt made of the night was the pass to Taylor.
“I’ve got tremendous confidence in my teammates, the play broke down, and either I was going to have to force a shot up and maybe I get a foul or maybe I don’t, or I kick it out to Stevie for a chance to win the game, and he hit a big time shot,” Offutt said.
After losing to Ohio by one in the previous meeting, this game was extra difficult to swallow for the Golden Flashes. Darren Goodson (9 points) believes his team made too many mistakes to win the game.
“The reason they were up on us was because we played selfish basketball in the first half,” Goodson said. “They played harder than us for one more possession than us.”
Ohio will host Eastern Michigan on Wednesday.
Until then, Stevie Taylor will be the (little) big man on campus.