Michigan knows all about Ohio now
NASHVILLE – The chant started late in the game and reached a full crescendo as soon as Michigan’s final attempt to avoid elimination fell short.
We are Ohio! We are Ohio!
Ohio’s 65-60 upset of No. 4 seed Michigan in an NCAA Midwest Regional game Friday at Bridgestone Arena provided a lesson: Be careful what you say while stoking the fires of a rivalry because you never know who might take offense.
As soon as he took over Michigan’s football program in January 2011, Brady Hoke started referring to archrival Ohio State as “Ohio,” a dismissive response to the Buckeyes’ boasts that they’re The Ohio State University.
Hoke is wildly popular in Ann Arbor after ending Michigan’s seven-year losing streak to the Buckeyes, but his labeling of Ohio State bothered the school that actually calls itself Ohio. So the Bobcats made their own statement Friday on college basketball’s biggest stage.
“They should respect us now,” Ohio point guard D.J. Cooper said after scoring a game-high 21 points and dishing out five assists. “We beat them, so they should show us a little more respect.”
Was Michigan (24-10) showing a lack of respect to his school by referring to Ohio State as Ohio?
“Most definitely,” Cooper said. “Ohio State is The Ohio State, and we’re Ohio University in Athens. So, hopefully, they’ll show us some respect now.”
Ohio (27-7) certainly earned respect with its performance. The Bobcats stayed in front for the last 36 1/2 minutes of the game and led by as many as 13 points. The Bobcats hung on even as Michigan had numerous opportunities to force a tie.
After Michigan cut the lead to 63-60 with 4:12 remaining, the Wolverines missed four potential game-tying 3-pointers – three by Trey Burke, one by Zack Novak – down the stretch.
[ Recap: Ohio knocks off No. 4 seed Michigan ]
“We wanted to win the whole thing,” said Burke, a freshman from Columbus, Ohio, who led the Wolverines with 16 points. “That was the goal. We just feel like we got upset. We just feel shocked.”
In the cruelest irony of all for Michigan, Ohio State transfer Walter Offutt sealed Michigan’s fate by recording a steal and sinking two free throws with 6.8 seconds left.
Ohio coach John Groce ordered that the Bobcats turn in their cell phones after the game to avoid distractions, so Offutt didn’t get a chance to see any congratulatory text messages from his former Ohio State teammates.
“I haven’t looked yet, but I’m pretty sure my phone’s over there loaded,” Offutt said. “I can’t wait to see what it looks like.”
The Bobcats didn’t seem too surprised by their big upset. In their eyes, it wasn’t much of an upset at all. Ohio already had shown its March moxie two years ago by waxing No. 3 seed Georgetown 97-83 in the NCAA tournament. Cooper had 23 points, eight assists and three steals in that game. And the Bobcats had plenty of guys ready for the chance to face Michigan.
Groce was an assistant on the Ohio State team that reached the 2007 national championship game. Bobcats sophomore Nick Kellogg is the son of CBS commentator and former Ohio State star Clark Kellogg. And, of course, Offutt began his college career with the Buckeyes. Those guys had a desire to beat Michigan long before they arrived on Ohio’s campus.
Ohio’s players also believed this was a winnable game. Many of the guys on Ohio’s roster had experience facing Michigan’s players in high school or on the AAU circuit. They knew the Wolverines well enough to consider this a favorable matchup.
“We’d been talking all week leading up to this that we expect to win,” Ohio forward Reggie Keely said. “We’d been watching film and Michigan looked very beatable on film, just because our personnel and what we do well and what they don’t do well. We defend the ‘3’ well, and they live and die by the ‘3.’ We rebound and have good size, and they were lacking size besides Jordan Morgan.”
Indeed, Michigan was 7-of-23 from 3-point range and couldn’t make the late 3-pointer that could have tied the game. Although Michigan outrebounded Ohio 29-26 and outscored the Bobcats 11-5 in second-chance points, the Wolverines didn’t have the type of dominant performance in the paint that you’d might expect from a Big Ten program facing a MAC school.
Then again, Cooper pointed out this wasn’t the first time a school from Ohio’s division has done this to a major-conference program.
“We feel the MAC East is really very strong,” Cooper said. “The West isn’t as strong, but the East has had some pretty good wins this year with Akron beating Mississippi State and Kent beating West Virginia. And this one tonight.”
This one came primarily because of Cooper, who was 7-of-11 from the floor and 3-of-6 from 3-point range. Cooper helped Ohio shoot 51.2 percent; Michigan made just 40.7 percent of its attempts.
Ohio did cool off considerably down the stretch. After leading 59-50 with 8:11 left, Ohio made just one basket the rest of the way. But while the offense faded in the final minutes, its defense never let down.
Opponents have shot just 29.7 percent from 3-point range against Ohio this season. That outstanding perimeter defense hung tough again Friday when the Bobcats’ season was on the line.
“It’s not like I waved a magic wand for this game,” Groce said. “We’re top 15 in the country in 3-point defense all year for the most part, somewhere between 10 and 15. It’s something we do well, and so that was good.”
It all starts with the guy who made the biggest steal of the season.
A lack of playing time caused Offutt to leave Ohio State. Groce calls Offutt a culture-changer for what he’s meant to Ohio’s defense. Offutt refuses to allow the Bobcats to have a bad practice. Now the former Ohio State sub is playing a featured role for one of the NCAA tournament’s biggest upstarts.
“It’s been an amazing journey, probably the best thing that ever happened in my life,” Offutt said.
And the ride isn’t over yet.