CLEVELAND -- D.J. Cooper bounced out of his chair after answering a few questions during the postgame news conference, and realized he had left something behind.
There in the middle of the table sat the Mid-American Conference championship trophy.
"Hey, D.J.," Ohio coach John Groce said. "You can take it."
Cooper should keep it.
Ohio's smooth point guard scored 23 points and the Bobcats had to nervously wait through a TV replay in the final seconds before beating Akron 64-63 in the MAC title game on Saturday night.
Ohio (27-7), which set a school record for wins, crowned its season by getting the MAC's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament for the second time in three years.
The Bobcats couldn't have done it without Cooper, who was the tournament's most outstanding player.
"There's something about a player who plays his best in the big games," Groce said. "He takes us to another level."
The top-seeded Zips (22-11), appearing in their sixth straight title game, nearly rallied from eight points down in the final minutes. Akron thought it may have tied it at 64 with 3.1 seconds left on a tipped free throw, but the officials reviewed the videotape at the scorer's table and determined the free throw had dropped in without being touched by anyone.
Cooper was then fouled with 2 seconds left. He missed the first free throw, and then intentionally misfired the second.
"I made him miss it," Groce said with a smile. "He almost made it."
Akron's Quincy Diggs flung a desperation shot from 60 feet that wasn't close and pandemonium erupted on Ohio's side of Quicken Loans Arena.
Cooper made four 3-pointers and added six assists and four steals in 36 minutes for the Bobcats, who squeaked past Buffalo in the semifinals.
"I feel like we deserve it," Cooper said. "We stuck together through the ups and downs this season."
Alex Abreu led Akron with 19 points. Diggs had 12 and Brian Walsh added 10. Center Zeke Marshall, last year's tourney MVP, had eight points and four rebounds.
As is almost always the case, the MAC final had some craziness and controversy. In the past, there have been last-second shots, clock malfunctions and punches exchanged after the final horn.
This one will be remembered for a free throw Abreu made that he tried to miss.
With Ohio leading 64-61, Abreu went to the line with 3.1 seconds left with a chance to pull the Zips within one. The sophomore guard dropped his first attempt to make it 64-62. He intended to miss the second one, hoping to get a rebound and possible tying putback.
He shot it high in the air with a ton of backspin, but the ball hit the back of the rim, bounced off the front and then the back again before dropping through.
"I tried to shoot it off the back rim and see if Zeke could tip it in," Abreu said. "At first, I thought it was really close, but if they reviewed it and said it wasn't good, it wasn't good."
When the scoreboard clock showed: Akron 64, Ohio 64, the Zips' fans erupted thinking the intentional miss had somehow been tipped in.
"We didn't know what was going on," Cooper said.
But after a lengthy discussion and several looks at the replay monitor, the officiating crew determined the ball had gone through on its own -- to the relief of the Bobcats and their fans.
Akron coach Keith Dambrot had no problem with the call.
"I didn't think it was a tip-in," Dambrot said. "I thought it was the right call. ... We've had some bizarre things happen here, the clock malfunction [against Miami in 2007] and now the fake tip-in."
Cooper could have given Ohio a three-point cushion, but he missed his two free throws, firing the second one long on purpose so Akron would have to throw in a shot from under its own basket.
When Diggs' fling sailed low and wide, Ohio's players raced around the floor in celebration, their NCAA tourney dreams fulfilled.
"It's hard to put this in words," said OU's Nick Kellogg. "It feels great to be a part of this."
Cooper's 3-pointer with 4:19 left to put Ohio ahead 59-52 was the game's biggest shot.
With the 35-second shot clock winding down, Cooper got the ball at the top of the key and was guarded closely by Akron's Nikola Cvetinovic. Cooper used a ball fake to create some space and then ducked underneath Cvetinovic, shot-putting the ball toward the basket as the horn sounded.
It dropped, and Cooper stared at Ohio's bench as if to say, "You had any doubt?"
Even Cvetinovic threw his arms in the air in disbelief.
"He does a lot of things you can't teach," Dambrot said. "That's what separates the great players from the good players."
Copyright 2012 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
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