CLEVELAND- The Ohio Men's Basketball team is returning to its second NCAA Tournament in three years after a 64-63 victory over No. 1 seed Akron in the 2012 First Energy Mid-American Conference Tournament Championship Saturday night.
Ohio improved to 36-25 overall in MAC Tournament play and became second all-time in MAC Championships with six. The Bobcats are now 6-1 in MAC Championships games and own a 3-0 record against the Zips in MAC Tournament play
Tournament MVP D.J. Cooper (Chicago, Ill.) finished his remarkable weekend with a team-leading 23 points on 8-for-16 shooting and six assists, while teammates Ivo Baltic (Kansas City, Mo.) and All-Tournament Team selection Nick Kellogg (Westerville, Ohio) both ended the night with nine points, respectively.
Ohio shot 44.2 percent from the field and led the Zips in a number of categories in the game, including second chance points (17-7), fast break points (17-7) and points off turnovers (20-7).
Cooper was dialed in early as he netted eight of Ohio's first 12 points in the first six minutes of the game. Offutt later added a steal-and-score combination and Baltic hit a long outside jumper to put the 'Cats up 12-8 at the 14:40 mark.
Junior Reggie Keely (University Heights, Ohio) came in off the bench for Ohio and scored a layup of his own, but Akron's Alex Abreu responded with the Zips' first three of the game, followed by another from the top of the key from Brian Walsh to tie things up at 14 apiece. Keely added a huge block moments later to stunt Akron's momentum and pushed the play down the floor, converting on one of two free throws to regain the lead for the Bobcats 15-14.
The Bobcats saw more success off the bench from sophomore T.J. Hall (Gainesville, Fla.) as he contributed four points, but sharp three-point shooting from the Zips evened the score once again at 19-19 at the 7:43 mark. After a pair of free throws from Akron's Quincy Diggs, Kellogg became the sixth Bobcat to make his way on the scoresheet, knocking down a three-pointer to put Ohio up 22-21.
The two teams traded scores in the waning minutes of the first half with Akron holding onto a small lead before Cooper hit a jumper with under a minute to go to narrow the Zips' lead to 29-28 at halftime.
Ohio shot an impressive 48 percent in the first half, connecting on 12-of-25 overall and 3-for-7 from three-point range (42.9 percent). The Zips held the rebound margin 17 to 12, but Ohio maintained solid defensive numbers by forcing eight turnovers and recording five steals, including two from sophomore Ricardo Johnson (Covington, Ky.).
Akron opened up the second half with another three, but Cooper provided the answer by hitting three-consecutive foul shots. Cooper intercepted a pass on the next Zips possession to fuel a Kellogg three-pointer, and Jon Smith (Columbus, Ohio) added a free throw to knot the score at 35. The 'Cats took the lead 37-35 on their next possession thanks to a jumper from Baltic.
The Bobcats boosted their lead to as much as six (41-35) after a Hall three-pointer that capped off a 10-0 Ohio run, but Diggs drained a three to make the score 41-38, ending a nearly scoreless five minutes for the Zips.
Kellogg's third three-pointer of the game put the Bobcats back up six (49-43). Abreu soon found the hot hand, though, and single handedly brought the Zips back within one at the 7:36 mark. Cooper would not let Akron find the momentum, however, nailing a three and finishing a fast break layup after a turnover from Akron's Zeke Marshall to bump Ohio's lead to 56-52 with 5:24 remaining in the game.
The junior took the game into his own hands with a gutsy three with time running out on the shot clock, and Baltic added another to give the Bobcats their largest lead of the game at 8 (62-54) with under four minutes to play. The Zips would not back down as Diggs drilled a three-pointer that pulled Akron back within three and Marshall then scored to cut it to 62-61 Ohio.
Abreu was called for a charge with just over a minute to play, but a Baltic turnover gave the ball back to Akron with 32.7 seconds remaining. A missed Marshall layup resulted in a key rebound from Keely who drew the foul as he went on to hit his two free throws to seal the win and the tournament for the 'Cats.