Harrison Barnes loses the ball as Walter Offutt contests, sending the game to overtime. ( Jeff Haynes / REUTERS)
5. March 23, 2012—St. Louis, MO: (1) North Carolina 73, (13) Ohio 65 Overtime
**NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional Semifinals
Before the game, few gave the Bobcats a chance even as the Tar Heels were without starting point guard Kendall Marshall, who had broken his wrist in North Carolina’s win over Creighton five days earlier.
But all season, the Bobcats believed they could compete with anyone and led by head coach John Groce, prepared to win as usual.
However, the Tar Heels jumped out to a 26-11 lead behind its two frontcourt stars and soon-to-be first round picks, Tyler Zeller and John Henson. The duo combined to score 16 of Carolina’s first 26 points and was no match for the undersized Bobcats.
North Carolina used their superior size and athleticism to destroy Ohio on the boards, holding a mammoth 56-26 rebounding advantage for the game.
But Ohio wasn’t intimidated and ended the half on an 11-3 run with two threes from Nick Kellogg to climb to within seven (29-22) heading into the locker room.
The Bobcats continued to use the three-point shot (while forcing 24 North Carolina turnovers) to offset their rebounding deficiencies. Ohio knocked down treys on three consecutive possessions including two from Walter Offutt, to cut the deficit to one (37-36) with 15:05 remaining in the second half.
As the Bobcats made their run, the crowd (full of Kansas and North Carolina State fans waiting for the next game) began to back the underdog Bobcats. The extra fan support helped re-energize Ohio and gave them a much-needed boost.
Trailing 46-41, D.J. Cooper, who had the worst shooting performance (3-of-20) of his brilliant career, splashed home a corner three and Kellogg added his fourth triple of the night from the wing to give the Bobcats their first lead of the game, setting up a wild finish. No team led by more than four points over the final 8:31 of regulation and there were six ties.
North Carolina quickly regained the lead but Ohio counter-punched with a 10-2 push spearheaded by Cooper’s three-point play to gain a 57-53 lead with 3:49 remaining. Ohio seemed to have the magic and momentum it needed to pull of the historic upset (no team seeded 12th or lower had ever knocked off No. 1 seed) but an enormous offensive rebound of a missed free throw led to a Harrison Barnes game-tying triple from the top of the key. The teams traded baskets down the stretch as North Carolina took a two-point edge on a three from Reggie Bullock with 42 seconds remaining.
With the game on the line, Offutt bullied Stilman White to the cup, made the layup and drew the foul with 25 seconds left. Offutt squandered the opportunity to give Ohio the lead by missing the free throw, giving the Tar Heels a chance to win the game on their final possession.
With Offutt guarding him, Barnes drove to his left and pulled-up for a short jumper, but lost the ball on his way up. Offutt swatted the ball towards the perimeter where Cooper grabbed it, took one dribble and launched a half-court shot that glanced off the rim and backboard as the horn sounded.
“I thought it was good when he let it go,” said Groce of Cooper’s last second heave. “At the end of shootarounds, he always practices half-court shots. If there’s anyone you’d want taking a half-court shot, it’s him.”
In the extra period, the Bobcats ran out of gas, and missed all six of their shot attempts. Their unlikely run come to a heartbreaking end with a 73-65 loss.
Offutt scored a career-high 26 points, 18 of them from long range. Most notably, he played tremendous defense on Barnes despite giving up four inches. He limited Barnes, the seventh overall pick in last summer’s NBA draft, to just 12 points on 3-of-16 shooting and five turnovers.
Zeller finished with 20 points, 22 rebounds and four blocks and was one of three Tar Heels to record double-doubles.
After the game, Offutt was distraught about his missed free throw at the end of regulation that would have given Ohio a one-point lead.
“One free throw away,” he said. “As a leader on this team, I take responsibility that I’ve got to hit that free throw…It just feels terrible to kind of let my team down in that sort of way.”
I wanted to put this performance higher because I think it is the one Ohio basketball game that even the casual sports fan remembers, but since it ended in a loss, I could not raise it above some of the other accomplishments the program achieved over the past four seasons.
Here are the highlights from the game.