“No one believed in us! No one thought we could do it!,” screamed a joyful Armon Bassett as he made his way through the bedlam of hugging players and coaches. The Bobcats’ junior guard had just finished off an incredible tournament run with 25 points to help Ohio knock off defending-champion Akron 81-75 in the final of the MAC Tournament in Cleveland on Saturday. With the win, Ohio wins the MAC’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Freshman DJ Cooper chipped in 23 points to quiet critics who were concerned over his ailing right knee.
Bassett was named tournament MVP and led all scorers with a 30.2 points-per-game average during the four games. After the win, Bassett clutched the trophy he and his teammates had earned with their shocking run. “I’ve got a tight grip on it,” said Bassett with his arms wrapped around the hardware. “I can’t believe it.”
Coming in as the ninth seeded team in the tournament, not much was expected of the upstart Bobcats. However, they shocked the conference by, first, knocking off Ball State on the road, then beating top-ranked Kent State, rival Miami and 2009 MAC champion Akron in Cleveland. “It’s just a testament to how hard these guys work,” said head coach John Groce.
“We went through a lot of stuff this year and we all stayed together,” said Bassett. “A lot of teams would have thrown in the towel, but we kept working hard. All 12 guys came to practice with their hard hats on.”
This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the program. A year in which Groce could allow his stellar recruiting class to get their feet wet before he could bring in more of his own players next year. Instead, Ohio got outstanding play from his new players, MAC freshman of the year Cooper, and Basset, who is playing his first season in the green and white after transferring from Indiana.
After their play in the tournament, people in the MAC have taken notice. “This team is going to be pretty good next year. The way [John Groce] recruits.” said Miami head coach Charlie Coles after their 54-42 loss to the young Bobcats’.
The Bobcats’ aren’t thinking about next year, though. “We want to keep this thing going,” said senior Kenneth Van Kempen. “We want to go as far as we can.” The Bobcats’ will have their chance to prove themselves once again when they take on Georgetown in the opening round of the tournament on Thursday.