Who knows what Saturday's second round will bring for the Ohio Bobcats, but after their stunning 97-83 upset of No. 3 seed Georgetown here Thursday night, they are the latest 'mouse' that roared from the Buckeye State.
Let's clarify something: This wasn't a fluke. This was a 40-minute butt-kicking of a Final Four-caliber Big East club by a team that lost to Pitt by 25 earlier this season. This was complete domination, but by the little guy. This was, honestly, weird to watch.
Ohio took the lead for good at the 9:33 mark of the first half, extended it to 12 at the break, ran it up to as much as 19 and only let Georgetown twice briefly pull within seven before putting the game away.
"We thought we had a good chance to win when we saw the film [of the Hoyas]," said Ohio leading scorer Armon Bassett in what has to be the retroactive understatement of the week.
A 14-over-3 upset isn't as rare as you'd think. There have now been 16 of them since the tournament expanded to its current size. What was mindblowing about this one was its magnitude. The last time a 14-seed won by more than three points in regulation was when Weber State beat Michigan State 79-72, in 1995. That had tied the mark for the largest regulation winning margin by a No. 14 seed until tonight, when Ohio doubled it.
Yet here were the Bobcats, who finished 7-9 in the MAC and needed a first-round OT road win as the No. 9-seed just to make it to the main portion of their conference tournament, eviscerating the big, bad Hoyas. How ridiculous was it? Ohio made 32-of-55 from the floor and 13-of-23 from 3-point range, for an effective field goal percentage of 70 percent. According to bbstate.com, Ohio's 1.40 points per possession was tied for the 37th best performance in Division I this season, in more than 5,000 total games.
The seeds of this upset, said Ohio coach John Groce, were planted in mid-January, when the Bobcats finally were able to settle on a rotation after an early-season spate of injuries, suspensions and departures. After dropping its first four league games, suddenly selfless Ohio now has won 13 of its last 18 games, including that crucial overtime road win at Ball State that started this postseason run.
"Guys [now] are playing not just for themselves, and when that happens, you can have magical shooting performances like we did today," Groce said.
Leading the spree was the guard tandem of Bassett and freshman point man D.J. Cooper. Ohio's two leading scorers, who came in averaging a combined 30 points per game, exploded for 55 points on 17-for-29 shooting, with Cooper also chipping in eight assists against just three turnovers. Cooper, whose poise and skill can make you forget his first-year status and league affiliation, said finding early offense was the key against Georgetown.
"They're one of the biggest teams in the country," Cooper said, "so we decided every time the ball went up on the glass, we'd try to push the ball in transition, make an advance pass, try to get as easy a bucket as possible."
In the locker room after the game, a soft-spoken and humble Bassett talked about his itinerant college career, one that has included stints at Indiana and UAB before landing in Athens, Ohio. Grateful for what's amounting to a third chance, Bassett repeatedly thanked God for putting him and the Bobcats in this position. Hoyas coach John Thompson III, though, had a simpler explanation for what happened. "Their backcourt just had all the answers," Thompson III said. "Just sitting here thinking about it, sometimes players just makes plays, and they consistently made the plays over and over again."