NASHVILLE -- It has truly been a long and winding road for Walter Offutt, the 6-foot-3 junior guard for Ohio University. The good news is he finally landed in the right place.
It was Offutt who made the big steal and hit the game-clinching free throws against Michigan in the NCAA Tournament on Friday to give the Bobcats their second NCAA tournament upset in three years.
It was also the second straight game the Bobcats got two clutch free throws in the final seconds to close out a game. Reggie Keely knocked down a pair to seal OU's Mid-American Conference tournament title against Akron. Offutt said he and his teammates often talk about those big moments.
"What would you do, what will you think about, stuff like that," Offutt said. "Man, you got to go up there and knock it down, and have confidence. That's what I done. That's what I think about ... step up and make the shot."
Offutt began his career at Ohio State. After one season with the Buckeyes, he decided to transfer. It appeared he was headed to New Mexico to play for former Iowa head coach and Indiana star Steve Alford. Instead he transferred to Wright State.
Months later a coaching change with the Raiders led to second thoughts. He decided to transfer again. The product of Indianapolis was originally looking to walk on at Indiana. Instead, he opted to play for the Bobcats. It has proven to be the right fit.
"I think it was easier for a guy like me," Offutt said of all the changes. "I'm adaptable. It's a lot of roads I could have taken. I think God had me be here at Ohio University. It's been an amazing journey. Probably the best thing that ever happened in my life."
The No. 13 Bobcats will take on No. 12 South Florida, at 7 p.m. Sunday in the Bridgestone Arena for the right to advance to the Midwest Regional in St. Louis. If that is to happen, expect Offut to be a key reason why. He does not lead OU in scoring, but he does lead the team in intangibles.
"Walt brings an element of toughness to our team that is hard to quantify," said Bobcats coach John Groce. "He's meant such a great deal to this team. They voted him captain before they even played a game. He's one of our leaders. At the defensive end is where he has brought that the most, and really helped us in a big-time way at that end of the floor."
His teammates have gravitated to his leadership, which is not the quiet kind. Totally opposite.
"Oh no," teammate D.J. Cooper said. "Walt's definitely a vocal leader. He's a talker, but nobody minds it. He's our glue guy. He guards the best guard, and you can count on him night in and night out."
The defensive measurables for Offutt are 3.6 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game. But he's the voice of the defense, the perimeter muscle. When the Bobcats absolutely have to lock down, Offutt is the heartbeat that gets the job done.
"He's what I call a culture changer," Groce said. "You can't possibly put a stat sheet on how valuable he is. Obviously, he made big plays at the end of the game, especially on the defensive end, and knocked down two free throws."
The culture Offutt has changed is turning the Bobcats from a finesse offensive team into a more gritty defensive team that can score. Not only does Offutt deliver with defense, but his driving forays to the rim for big baskets late against Michigan kept the Bobcats in the lead while his teammates were having trouble getting the ball through the hoop.
"Walt is one of those guys, I can assure you, he earns everything that he gets and means an awful lot to our team," Groce said.