*Editor’s Note* This is the parent post of a series that will be featured exclusively on Speakeasy Sports over the next five days. Come back tomorrow for the No. 10 and No. 9 most significant games of the past four years.
Over the last four years, Ohio basketball climbed into the national spotlight on several occasions en route to arguably its most successful era of basketball. In 2010, the Bobcats won an NCAA Tournament game for the first time in 27 seasons and last year’s run to the Sweet 16 was the first such appearance since 1964. Ohio’s senior class picked up numerous accolades including the title of winningest class in program history in both the regular season (94) and postseason (13).
To honor the past four seasons and the senior class, I took on the arduous task of selecting the 10 best Ohio basketball games of the last four seasons. I based my rankings off the significance of the game, the atmosphere surrounding the matchup and of course the outcome. But with countless epic performances, I had to leave more than a few great games off the list. Here are the top three honorable mentions that did not make the cut (in order by date of the game).
November 25, 2011–Louisville, KY: #7 Louisville 59, Ohio 54
In just their fourth game of the season, the Bobcats faced off against an eventual final four team in the seventh-ranked Cardinals and showed that they could play with anyone in the country.
Ohio had Louisville on the ropes, trailing by just a point with 30 seconds to go, before a heavily disputed blocking foul on Walter Offutt helped Louisville escape.
The Bobcats erased a nine-point second half deficit with a remarkable 17-2 run to take a six-point lead on D.J. Cooper’s three-point play with 3:55 remaining. But as any great team does, Louisville responded to take a four-point lead before a deep three from Cooper brought Ohio to within a point, 55-54 with 52 seconds left.
On Louisville’s next possession, star guard Peyton Siva drove the lane and powered into Offutt, who was called for his fifth foul. Offutt looked to be set but the call went against the ‘Cats and Siva knocked down both free throws for a three-point lead. Ohio still had a chance to tie, but missed two potential game-tying threes in the final seconds.
Cooper led the way with 16 points (all in the second half) while the bench provided a boost with 29 points, including 10 from freshman backup point guard Stevie Taylor.
Although it was a gutty performance from the young Bobcats, Ohio coach John Groce knew his team had allowed a great opportunity to slip through its hands.
“We didn’t come here for a moral victory. Our guys believed that they could win the game, and then to get into position to win the game and then to not finish was disappointing.”
This attitude, along with his ability to win big games, was just a few of the reasons why Groce was revered by the Ohio fan base. Although the loss stung at that time, it set the stage for one of the greatest seasons in Ohio basketball history.
January 21, 2012—Athens, OH: Ohio 69, Miami (OH) 65
Ohio retired the jersey of the best player in program history and outscored their hated rivals 12-2 over the final 3:08 to secure an important win early in conference play (I couldn’t possibly leave this off the list, but this just reemphasizes how many great games there were to choose from over the past four years).
The only three-time Mid-American Conference Player of the Year, Gary Trent (1993-1995), affectionately known as “The Shaq of the MAC,” dominated the conference in his three years wearing the green and white. After his number jersey was unveiled from the rafters, Trent concluded his halftime speech by saying Ohio needed to “finish kicking Miami’s ass,” which fired up the already raucous crowd.
The Bobcats sleepwalked through the first half and found themselves down by eight points with five minutes to play. But Ohio awoke just in time and Walter Offutt’s steal and breakaway layup with 1:29 left gave Ohio a one-point. The Bobcats sunk their free throws down the stretch to move to 15-4 on the season.
Ivo Baltic led the way with 20 points (that’s not a misprint) on 9-13 shooting while Reggie Keely converted three three-point plays in the second half and finished with 11 points.
March 9, 2013—Athens, OH: Ohio 58, Miami (OH) 54
In an eerily similar game to the previous year’s Ohio-Miami matchup, the Bobcats again scrambled back from a second half deficit to earn a share of the MAC Regular Season crown on senior day.
Ohio trailed by as many as 12 in the second half before Stevie Taylor and Jon Smith came off the bench to rescue the Bobcats. Taylor kick-started the run with a three, then Smith scored four points on one possession to bring the once mellow crowd to a deafening pitch. Taylor added steals on consecutive possessions, finishing with a layup on the first steal and finding D.J. Cooper for the go-ahead three on the second. The Convocation Center erupted in cheer and was as loud as it’s ever been after Cooper’s trey, even with most students still on spring break. When the run was over, Ohio had scored 15 straight points to take the lead and Nick Kellogg’s clutch 18-foot jumper at the end of the shot clock sealed the win.
This win was special because it filled the only void on the seniors’ resume; a MAC Regular Season title and the programs’ first since 1993-1994.
“I just wanted to send the seniors out on a good note and I wanted the championship so bad,” said Taylor.