*Editor’s Note* This is the fifth post of six, on Ohio basketball’s most significant games of the past four years. Come back tomorrow for No. 2 and No. 1. Here is the parent post, which includes three games that did not make the list. You can also read games No. 10 and 9, No. 8 and 7 and No. 6 and 5.
4. March 10, 2012—Cleveland, OH: Ohio 64, Akron 63
**2012 Mid-American Conference Tournament Championship
After a hotly contested first half that had the Zips leading 29-28, the second half was one for the ages.
Trailing 35-31 early in the second half, Ohio went on a 10-0 run over a five-minute span to take a 41-35 lead, a lead they would not relinquish for the rest of the game.
Akron closed to within one (51-50) on a three-pointer from Alex Abreu, but D.J. Cooper responded with a personal 8-2 run to put the Bobcats back in control.
Cooper sank a corner three, made a difficult driving layup and then drained one of the biggest shots of his career for a 59-52 lead with 4:21 remaining.
With the shot clock winding down, Akron forward Nikola Cvetinovic switched onto Cooper outside the three-point line. Cooper pump-faked, leaned into Cvetinovic and threw up a 26-foot prayer at the horn that somehow fell through the net, sending the Ohio section of the crowd at Quicken Loans Arena into a frenzy. Cvetinovic threw his arms up in disbelief while Cooper stared at his team’s bench in defiance.
On Ohio’s next possession, Cooper found Ivo Baltic for a corner three-ball to boost the lead to 62-54. However, the Zips would not go quietly, using a 7-0 spurt to climb within a point with 1:43 remaining.
Akron eventually had a chance to take the lead, but Brian Walsh’s pull-up jumper rimmed out and Reggie Keely grabbed the rebound and was fouled with six seconds to play.
Keely, a career 62.5 percent free throw shooter who was just 2-of-4 from the line in the game to that point, made the front-end of the one-and-one, then rattled home the second to give Ohio a 64-61 lead.
After a timeout, Bobcat head coach John Groce elected to have his team foul the Zips before they could get off a potential game-tying three. Cooper obliged by fouling Abreu as he crossed mid-court with 3.1 seconds left, sending the sophomore guard to the line.
Abreu made the first and tried to miss the second in hopes of a possible tip-in. He shot-put the ball high into the air and watched as the ball caromed off the back rim onto the front rim, then leapt to the back rim, before sliding through the net.
Keely and Akron’s seven-foot center Zeke Marshall both nearly got hands on the ball and there was much confusion as to whether the ball was touched. However, after a lengthy video-review, officials determined the free throw had drooped in on its own accord, allowing Ohio to keep a one-point lead.
Cooper was fouled on the ensuing inbounds play with two seconds left. He misfired on the first free throw attempt and then, after looking to the bench, intentionally missed the second forcing Akron’s Quincy Diggs to fire a desperation shot from three-quarters court that wasn’t close.
Cooper was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player and carried the load offensively, recording 23 points, six assists and four steals (no other Bobcat scored in double digits). He was 8-of-16 from the field and 4-of-9 from long range.
The performance was just another in a long list of clutch acts from the junior guard, who received high praise after the game from Akron coach Keith Dambrot.
“He does a lot of things you can’t teach. That’s what separates the great players from the good players.”
3. March 13, 2010–Cleveland, OH: Ohio 81, Akron 75 Overtime
**2010 Mid-American Conference Tournament Championship
This was another classic MAC Championship matchup. The game featured 13 ties, 24 lead changes, numerous crucial plays and even an extra five minutes of heart-pounding action.
Backed by four first-half threes and a buzzer-beating layup from freshman sensation D.J. Cooper, ninth-seeded Ohio took a 36-34 lead into halftime over third-seeded Akron.
The game went back and forth with neither team leading by more than five points until Ohio’s Kenneth van Kempen drained two free throws to give the Bobcats a 65-59 lead with 2:37 remaining.
But Akron answered. Junior guard Darryl Roberts scored six straight points sandwiched around an Armon Bassett free throw to bring the Zips to within 66-65 with 54 seconds left setting up a chaotic final minute.
Bassett lost the ball with 24 seconds remaining but Chris McKnight’s go-ahead layup attempt was blocked by Ohio’s DeVaughn Washington.
Then came a rash of three consecutive turnovers, two by the Zips, which gave Ohio the ball with 13 seconds remaining. Bassett calmly converted two free throws for a 68-65 lead. But Akron guard Steve McNees drilled the game-tying trey from the top of the key with six seconds to play.
Ohio called time, and coach John Groce put the ball in the hands of Cooper. He raced up the court and had a decent look from 12 feet, but his jumper was long and the game went to overtime.
According to Cooper, Groce’s message before the extra five minutes was, “Don’t flinch.”
The MAC Freshman of the Year obliged, knocking down a three-pointer to put Ohio ahead 73-70.
But McNees kept firing and re-tied the game at 75 with his fourth triple of the game.
Bassett responded by kissing a short jumper off the glass with 1:08 to play, and Cooper sank two clutch free throws for a 79-75 lead with 24 seconds left.
McNees and McKnight missed consecutive threes, Cooper rebounded the miss and lobbed a pass ahead to a streaking Bassett for a two-hand slam, securing Ohio’s first MAC Tournament Championship title since 2005.
Along with van Kempen, Ohio’s guard tandem played the entire game. Bassett (25 points) and Cooper (23 points) combined for 48 points, 13 rebounds, eight assists and seven three-pointers. Bassett was named tournament MVP after averaging 29 points in four games and his 116 points and 49 free throws set a MAC tournament record.
Cooper and Bassett received high praise from McKnight after the game.
“They’re unbelievable,” he said. “You can’t give them any space or the ball is going up. And if it’s going up, it’s going in.”
I have this game rated slightly ahead of Ohio’s 2012 MAC Championship (above) because the Bobcats came out of nowhere to win this tournament. They were 7-9 in MAC play and barely even made it to Cleveland. Ohio rallied from a 10-point deficit with 10 minutes to play at Ball State in the tournament’s opening round, eventually winning in overtime just to earn a trip to Cleveland.
They then stunned Kent State, the league’s regular season champion, shut down fourth-seeded Miami (OH) in the semis and outlasted the Zips in the final.
Ohio also overcame an extreme amount of adversity during the season. Steven Coleman, the team’s top returning scorer, played just 10 games before breaking his hand and never played again. Washington was suspended for five games midseason for violating team rules, while highly touted freshman James Kinney was kicked off the team at the beginning of February.
“We went through a lot of stuff this year and we all stayed together,” said Bassett. “A lot of teams would have thrown in the towel, but we kept working hard. All 12 guys came to practice with their hard hats on.”
The win put the Bobcats in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2005 when they nearly knocked off Florida.
Click below for Bassett’s highlights from the MAC title game.