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Men's Basketball: Bobcats' Cleveland trip lacks "magic" of last March

CLEVELAND -- D.J. Cooper calmly pulled up, unleashed a shot and stood, staring at the arching ball as the 11 seconds on the clock dwindled away.

In last year’s Mid-American Conference Tournament, the shot probably would have gone in for the Bobcats. This year, those shots didn’t fall in Ohio's 76-73 quaterfinal overtime loss to Ball State.

“I was just trying to make a play,” Cooper said. “I wanted to make them come to me. But (Randy) Davis is a smart player. He knew I was looking for Tommy (Freeman), so I was forced to shoot.”

The invincibility and confidence that brimmed throughout last season’s MAC Tournament didn’t show against Ball State, especially as Ohio blew a nine-point lead with 2:42 remaining on the clock.

This time, the ball didn’t bounce their way as it constantly hit off players hands and touched down out of bounds. This time, broken defensive plays and clanked shots defined Ohio’s only game in Cleveland, one where it saw itself leaving two days earlier than last season.

“I just didn’t think we were very smart there fouling,” coach John Groce said. “On those and-ones, you can’t foul there."

The struggle could be seen in the duel between the teams’ two sharpshooters. With regulation time running out, Ball State’s Randy Davis nailed a 3-pointer over Tommy Freeman to bring Ohio’s lead down to three. He struck back in overtime, fading away with Ivo Baltic’s hand in his face as he put the Cardinals up 71-68.

When Freeman got his chance to nail his game-changing 3-pointer, it clanked off the front of the rim, putting a dent in Ohio’s attempt at the win in overtime.

The Bobcats originally stayed in the game with bruising offensive play from Ivo Baltic and DeVaughn Washington instead of shots from Freeman, Nick Kellogg and D.J. Cooper.

“They were giving us what we wanted,” Washington said. “They didn’t want to foul and it seemed like they really didn’t want to guard us down there.”

The pair’s play showed the evolution of the Bobcats since last March. But in the end, Washington’s battering drives and Baltic’s smooth flicks weren’t enough.

Defensively, Ohio broke down. Ball State constantly made its way to the basket after a blow defensive assignment, and Ohio sloppily fouled the driving Cardinal on three different occasions.

Panic set in.

Last year, there was never any fear in the eyes of the Bobcats. As overtime dragged on, frustration brimmed on Cooper and Baltic’s faces as they couldn’t find a solution to the surging Cardinals.

As Nick Kellogg limped and dragged his foot after hurting his ankle early in overtime, his struggle summed up Ohio’s plight.

“He gutted it out,” Groce said. “He’s a tough and competitive kid. I thought he did a good job of guarding (Jesse) Berry throughout the game.”

With the injury bristling, Kellogg calmly drove to the basket and tossed up a line-drive of a layup. It bounced around the rim for a few seconds before falling through.

Ohio fans exploded with cheer, but a charge negated the basket. Kellogg limped back on defense, pain and frustration searing throughout his face.

His final shot became a symbol of Ohio’s loss. He faded away as time expired, throwing up a beautiful, hanging floater toward the rim.

A few inches to the right, the score would have been tied.

It bounced just left, falling to the floor to signify the end of Ohio’s season, one that didn't glisten with the same post-season magic of last spring.


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