PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Who knew that all this time Ohio used the regular season as a warm-up act?
The Bobcats' time to shine is March.
The MAC tournament champion Bobcats, who had a losing record in conference play, have found their way in the only month that matters and now boast an NCAA tournament win for the first time in 27 years.
|East | West | Midwest | South|
Georgetown might want to skip the tourney next time it's in Providence.
Armon Bassett scored 32 points to lead the 14th-seeded Bobcats to a convincing 97-83 win over the Hoyas in the Midwest Regional.
"We may not be a better team, just got to be a better team on a given night," Bassett said.
In early March, no one expected Ohio (22-14) to be in this position. The team had just finished a 7-9 season in Mid-American Conference play and entered the conference tournament as the ninth seed.
Four wins later, Ohio was in the 65-team field.
Forty minutes later, the Bobcats are in the second round.
Coach John Groce wouldn't call it the biggest win in team history.
"I certainly think it's one of them," he said. "What it does more than anything is, I think it gives tremendous belief with our guys in what we're doing, in our system."
Ohio seized the lead early on its 3-point shooting and never had a serious letdown the rest of the way. The Hoyas (23-11) made a small run in the second half that cut a 19-point lead down to seven.
No worries. D.J. Cooper, who scored 23 points, made a 3 to the delight of all those green-clad fans who made the trip and cheered them on the whole way. The Bobcats cruised from there and have won six straight games.
Ohio joined Murray State, which knocked off Vanderbilt 66-65 at the buzzer, as the two big upset winners Thursday.
"There were some times where the only people that really believed in what we were doing and where we were headed were the guys in our locker room and our administration," Groce said.
Chris Wright led the third-seeded Hoyas (23-11) with 28 points. Georgetown coach John Thompson III said a day earlier his team was playing its best basketball of the season. It certainly didn't extend into the tournament opener.
The Hoyas looked sensational in winning the first three games of the Big East tournament before losing to West Virginia in the championship, and appeared to have positioned themselves as a legitimate Final Four threat.
It wasn't to be.
"We really thought we could make some noise in this tournament," Georgetown guard Austin Freeman said. "We really didn't imagine we would be one-and-done."
The Hoyas had a rough time in Providence back in 1989, too, when they narrowly beat No. 16 seed Princeton 50-49. At least they won in '89.
This time the Hoyas were flustered and frustrated throughout. When Greg Monroe was on his back after being whistled for an offense foul, he pounded the court in disbelief and anger.
Monroe had 19 points and 13 rebounds, and Hollis Thompson scored 16 points.
Monroe, the 6-foot-11 center with NBA prospects, appeared to lean toward returning for his junior season.
"I'm ready to go back and see how I can help my team next year," he said.
The Big East took a beating on Thursday with the Hoyas and sixth-seeded Marquette both losing. Notre Dame also lost to Old Dominion. Second-seeded Villanova needed overtime to eek past Robert Morris earlier in the day in Providence -- the Big East's headquarters.
Bassett, the MAC tournament MVP, made it look easy. After a 3-pointer made it 39-26, he just turned toward the crowd with a shrug and smiled.
Ohio led by 12 at halftime and kept on rolling. Cooper picked Georgetown's Jason Clark clean, sprinted toward the basket and tossed the ball backward high over his head, where a streaking DeVaughn Washington slammed home the alley-oop in the play of the game.
The Bobcats have something to show for a turbulent season. They opened conference play with four straight losses, lost one player for the season with a broken hand and Washington was suspended five games for team violations. Groce even kicked a player off the team.
"I'm excited for our guys with everything they've been through," Groce said.