Is there one shot you wish, more than any other, would have gone in?
Mine’s easy: It’s D.J. Cooper’s desperate half-court heave at the end of regulation against in the Sweet 16 on March 23, 2012. If he makes it, Ohio advances over North Carolina.
That would have given my alma a 66-63 victory and a trip to the Elite Eight. It would have been on the short list of greatest buzzer-beaters of all time, and it would have marked the first time a 13-seed beat a No. 1 seed in the Sweet 16.
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As far as I’m concerned, it would have been the greatest shot of all time.
That is what I miss most this week. We should be coming off the first weekend of the 2020 men’s basketball tournament, a four-day rush that would have produced this year’s version of the Sweet 16. Perhaps a team seeded 12 or lower would be the talk of the tournament.
Ohio was that team in 2012. You don’t remember them as much, because No. 13 La Salle and No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast (also known as “Dunk City”) made that run to the Sweet 16 the following season.
Ohio still made the most of their moment. They beat No. 4 Michigan in the first round and No. 12 South Florida in the second round. My college roommate J.D. and I talked about making the trip to St. Louis for the North Carolina game, but the work schedule didn’t line up.
That was OK. I lived in Charlotte at the time, and I enjoyed annoying North Carolina fans throughout the week. Tar Heels point guard Kendall Marshall was out, and I was confident the Bobcats were going to do more than just make it a game. I talked so much trash to the UNC fans, most of whom had no idea who Cooper was or where to find Ohio University on a map.
“Who is Harrison Barnes again? Tyler Zeller is good?”
I thought the Bobcats were going to win all week. That is the power of a Cinderella run. It makes teams — and their fans — feel invincible.
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Of course, Barnes and Zeller were good. Zeller had 20 points and 22 rebounds and dominated the first half. Barnes was having an off night, but that changed when it mattered most. The Tar Heels led 29-22 at halftime, but it felt like 52-22.
The second half, however, was all Bobcats. Ohio hit 8 of 13 from 3-point range. Walter Offutt gave the Bobcats a 42-41 lead with 10:23 left. I took a picture on my phone and sent it to my roommate. I am glad there are no recordings of me in my living room for the final 10 minutes of regulation.
Of course, most Ohio fans would take the go-ahead free throw Offutt missed in overtime as their shot. Offutt had 26 points that night. I would still take Cooper’s heave, which came after Harrison Barnes was stripped in the final seconds. Ohio coach John Groce leaned with the ball in the air.
I thought it was in. Greatest shot of all time. Well, it hit the side of the standard.
Barnes closed out Ohio in overtime. North Carolina won 73-65, and we were left to wonder might have been.
I saw Zeller and Barnes in the locker rooms while covering Cavaliers playoff games a few years later, and it took everything in my power not to say something. Those two have played in so many big games, that it wouldn’t probably have been on their radar. Groce left for Illinois before taking the Akron job. The Zips likely would have been in the tournament this year.
Eight years later, it’s still on my mind. Ohio has made six tournament appearances in my lifetime. Gary Trent — also known as “The Shaq of the MAC” — helped make it interesting against Bobby Knight-led Indiana in 1994. The Bobcats beat Georgetown in the first round in 2010 in a 97-83 blowout. That is the most dominant first-round upset of all time.
The 2012 team, however, made a run that might never be duplicated. I can still hear Marv Albert say, “Barnes lost it … final second as Cooper fires. …”
I still wish that shot went in. I don’t think there will be a shot quite like that again.
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