Alexandria Skowronski



A look back at one of the most important shots in Ohio history

Andrew Gillis/ For The Post

Ohio's coaching staff was drained.

No. 14 Ohio had just beaten No. 3 Georgetown 97-83 in the 2010 NCAA Tournament. It was one of the biggest upsets in tournament history. 

The staff had spent all night studying Tennessee, Ohio's next opponent. The Bobcats had to play the Volunteers in two days. It was a whirlwind of a day for the team that shouldn't have even been there.

So when preparation was done, the coaching staff emerged from the meeting room groggy, sleep-deprived, and running on Cloud Nine. They emerged from the room at 5 a.m.

But before they could head to their respective rooms, the morning paper caught their eyes. It was the March 19, 2010 edition of USA Today. 

The headline read, "Upsets rattle the brackets." It was a picture of Ohio forward DeVaughn Washington, arms at his side, yelling with passion over the previous night's upset.

"We’re walking out of the room, we look tired, we look down and we’re like ‘Oh man, this is real. This was a big moment,’ " current-assistant coach Aaron Fuss said. 

And yet, for a team that accomplished such a historic upset, it might not have even happened if it wasn't for a shot that occurred just 22 days earlier.

The build up

Tommy Freeman's Ohio career was anything but average. He left as the program's leading 3-point shooter, having made 44.3 percent of his attempts. He even shot 47.7 from deep in that 2010 season. But unfortunately for Freeman, his team was a perfect personification of the word average.

The Bobcats entered the month of February at 11-10 and 2-5 in the Mid-American Conference. Hardly MAC Championship worthy, let alone NCAA Tournament worthy. 

“We were really up and down with the young guys we had," Freeman said. "The strides we took to end up where we did, a lot of those MAC games were really trying, we lost a lot of close ones that year. Taking those MAC games as learning experiences, figuring out a way to win.”

Alex Goodlett

(From left to right) Tommy Freeman, DeVaughn Washington, John Groce, Asown Sayles and Adetunji Adedipe pose for a picture Mar. 1 in The Convo. Four seniors were honored before playing Akron in the season’s last home game. Ohio won 80-55.

Ohio's record wasn't much better at the end of the month, either. Heading into the week of Feb. 24, Ohio was just 15-13. But then, something clicked.

"Usually the task at hand is the day in front of you, you’re trying not to get too far out in front of yourself," then-assistant coach Chris Holtmann said. "I just remember (coach) John (Groce) echoing those thoughts to our group, communicating that with them over and over."

It was Groce, amongst the others, who helped push Ohio on a run that would end up as just the 12th trip to the NCAA Tournament appearance.

But for now, Ohio had to beat its rival. It's biggest rival. And the stakes, at the time, were just as big as they always were.

“I’ve been here nine years now," Fuss said. "It doesn’t matter who the good teams are in the league, Miami could be the 12 seed or the one seed, that is a big game. That means a lot to our players, a lot to our fans, we were approaching that as the biggest game on our schedule.”

The shot

Ohio trailed by six at halftime, but rallied back to take the lead from Miami as the second half wore on. It was a classic rivalry between two classic teams.

“Very competitive game in a great atmosphere," Ohio play-by-play man Russ Eisenstein said. "Back and forth, it was what an Ohio-Miami game should be like and hopefully many, many more of them are going to be like that in the future again."

With just seconds remaining, Miami sunk a layup to what many thought would sink Ohio. The Bobcats trailed 68-67. 

Maddie Meyer

Forward Tommy Freeman takes a shot during the game Feb. 9 against Toledo in The Convo. Ohio won 71-58.

“It was kind of a broken play, at seven seconds, your goal is to get a good shot," Fuss, the then-Director of Basketball Operations said. "It was a clean look at the rim, Arman actually got scored on right before that, he’s under the rim, he took it out of bounds. That put him out of the play, Tommy was the only guy up there and available.”

D.J. Cooper raced up the floor with time running down, but as he neared the left wing, four RedHawks converged on him. He passed to the only man open — Freeman. 

Freeman took the pass on the right win, pump-faked, side-stepped left and with help from a screen from Kenneth van Kempen, fired up his shot.

"I do know ... maybe this is ridiculous, but there was no way he was going to miss that shot," Fuss said.

Fuss was right. With just over one second left, Freeman's shot hit the bottom of the net.

“I started running to the bench when the horn sounded," Freeman said. "Then I got lifted up and carried to the sideline, everybody is on the court and I’m coming out the backside. To be part of that historic rivalry that’s been taking place for so long, to be apart of that history, is something I hold close to me.”

It was Freeman's first and only buzzer beater of the sharpshooter's career. 

“Tommy was a guy known for making the big shots," Holtmann said. "He had that clutch gene that you look for in guys, the moment wasn’t too big for him. We had a lot of shotmakers on that team, but he was prolific in his ability to make big shots."

The crowd rushed the floor to celebrate the win as Freeman walked back toward the bench. It was quite possibly the biggest shot in the rivalry's history.

“In a rivalry game against your arch nemesis, that’s one of the, if not the biggest shots I’ve ever taken and made," Freeman said. "It’ll be one I tell my kids and grandkids about, one that I can show them in years to come.”

Miami's coach at the time, the late Charlie Coles, was probably the most historic part of the rivalry. His red turtleneck became a staple around the MAC and through the rivalry. 

Coles' postgame press conference that night still makes Freeman smile.

Feeman said he remembers Coles saying at the time, " 'I was telling them to find Freeman. Somehow they didn’t.' "

Freeman spent the next day reveling in his shot. The team was fully energized, but even with just one senior on the team, finally saw their youth growing.

"Going to class the next day, obviously it was in The Post, people were saying ‘Great shot last night!’" Freeman said. "It’s cool to be on SportsCenter whenever you can be, bring Ohio to the national stage."

His shot energized a rivalry and for one night, pushed Ohio to national prominence. Little did he know, there was more to come.

“It’s just one of those memories that I’ll always have, and will continue to make me smile for a long, long time," Freeman said."

The aftermath

Alex Goodlett

Former Ohio forward Tommy Freeman takes a shot over a Toledo defender in The Convo. Freeman signed with the Worcester Wolves after finishing his Ohio career.

Ohio's season wasn't over at that point, not by any stretch. No. 9 in the MAC Tournament, the Bobcats had to come from behind against Ball State on the road and win in overtime. Then Ohio reeled off three-straight wins in Cleveland, including once again over Miami, to win the MAC.

“We definitely used it as a momentum builder going to the MAC Tournament," Freeman said. He then paused and later continued, “Miami, when we saw them in Cleveland, had no chance after that."

Holtmann would end up at Gardner-Webb the next season and is currently the coach at Butler. Groce is currently the coach at Illinois. All of the assistants from that year's team are now in Power 5 conferences or coaches. 

Freeman is now a graduate assistant for Ohio, on the bench in a suit and tie instead of a jersey and gym shorts. He can look up in the rafters and see "2010" hanging on the NCAA Tournament banner. 

But the question remains: What if he missed?

"I just know the feeling and mood around our team, late, was really good," Holtmann said. "When you win a game in that fashion, or you beat your rival, there’s no question that gives you a great deal of momentum.”

Frankly, it isn't that much of a discussion.

“Tommy will tell you no," Fuss said, laughing. "He will tell you the season would’ve been over, we couldn’t have done anything without him. (But) I don’t know, I don’t know how that would’ve changed our seed. Do we end up getting the 10 seed? Go somewhere else?"

There might not have been a MAC title, or an upset of Georgetown and a USA Today cover if Freeman had missed that shot. 

But he didn't.

Development by: Emma Steer / For The Post

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