7:00 PM ET, March 12, 2005
Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, OH
CLEVELAND (AP) -- Leon Williams doesn't recall particulars of his other game-winning shot against some high school a few years ago. He'll remember every nanosecond of this one.
So will Ohio's fans.
Williams dropped in a putback in the final second as the Bobcats, down by 19 points in the second half, rallied for an 80-79 overtime win against Buffalo in the Mid-American Conference championship on Saturday night.
Williams, the MAC's freshman of the year, grabbed a miss by freshman Jeremy Fears and went back up with his game-winner with five-tenths of a second left. The ball hung on the edge of the rim for a tantalizing split second before dropping through, sending the Bobcats into the NCAA Tournament.
"It was just hanging there forever," Williams said. "And then it finally went in."
Buffalo's desperation heave at the buzzer was short -- just like the Bulls' remarkable season.
Williams finished with a career-high 29 points and 15 rebounds and was named the tourney's MVP. Fears had 21 and Sonny Troutman 12 for the fourth-seeded Bobcats (21-10), who went just 10-20 a year ago and were picked to finish last in a preseason media poll.
The drought between NCAA appearances won't be nearly as long with Williams and Fears, two fearless first-year stars who played as if they were in their fourth title game -- not their first.
Wearing one of the nets he helped cut down, Williams was still stunned by what had happened.
"It's unbelievable as a freshman coming in and doing this," he said. "It's wonderful."
Battle's 15-foot jumper with 11.5 seconds remaining put Buffalo ahead 79-78, giving thousands of Bulls fans who made the three-hour trip from Western New York their last thrill and dreams of the school's first NCAA trip.
Buffalo coach Reggie Witherspoon tried to call a timeout to put in defensive substitutions, but his screams were ignored by the officiating crew.
"I have not gotten an explanation yet," he said. "I asked for a timeout. It was noticed. It was pretty obvious."
Ohio rushed the ball up court and Fears drove the right side and got off a tough layup with about two seconds left. It was off the mark, but Williams was in perfect position underneath and softly put it back up.
"I was hoping Jeremy would have made it so we wouldn't have to go through all that drama," Williams joked. "I was looking up and just hoping my shot would go in."
When the horn sounded, Ohio's comeback season was complete and Bobcat players tackled each other as fans stormed the floor and began chants of "O-U's dancing."
It was the first overtime game in MAC final history, and a fitting conclusion to a season in which the distance between the league's ninth-place and first-place teams was smaller than ever. Six schools went 11-7 during the regular season.
The Bulls will now have to hope for an NCAA at-large berth. That's unlikely, though, since the MAC has only had one representative in the tourney each year since 1999.
Ohio coach Tim O'Shea, who had spent part of his postgame on Friday politicking for his squad to make the NCAAs, feels that Buffalo and regular-season champ Miami of Ohio should be in the 64-team field.
"Buffalo deserves to be in. They not only belong, they could advance and be a Sweet 16 team," he said. "We should have three teams, no question about it. You saw the greatness of the MAC tonight."
Ohio, which swept three games from Buffalo this season, had a chance to win it in regulation.
After Buffalo's Yassin Idbihi missed a 3-pointer from the baseline with 4.5 seconds to go, Ohio rebounded and called time. Fears made a nice length-of-the-court pass to Troutman, who had a good look from 12 feet but was a little short as the horn sounded to end regulation.
Buffalo seemed to be in control when Jason Bird drilled a 3-pointer -- the Bulls' fourth in 3:40 -- to make it 57-38 with 16:20 left, prompting UB's student section to bust out chants of "This is our house!"
But the Bobcats weren't done and ripped off nine straight points to get within 57-47. Cage's 3-point play slowed the OU onslaught for a moment, but Green hit a 3-pointer, Fears scored on two drives and fed Williams for a layup to cap a 22-3 run that tied it 60-all.
Buffalo called timeout, and on his way to the huddle, Fears did a cartwheel and back flip at center court.
When it was finally over, O'Shea joked that he was tempted to pull off his own dazzling move.
"I probably should retire," he said. "It should be my final game."
Team Stat Comparison
|FG Made-Attempted||31-67 (.463)||32-66 (.485)|
|3P Made-Attempted||12-29 (.414)||2-13 (.154)|
|FT Made-Attempted||5-5 (1.000)||14-19 (.737)|
|Fouls (Tech/Flagrant)||19 (0/0)||13 (0/0)|