Updated Wed, Mar 20, 2013 7:59 am
D.J. Cooper sank both free throws with 24.9 seconds remaining on the clock in overtime to give the Ohio Bobcats a two-possession lead over the Akron Zips. Armon Bassett scooped up a loose ball after the Zips’ final attempt to strike back and took it the distance for a fast break slam. Bassett’s dunk put the Bobcats in the lead 81-75 as the overtime buzzer sounded, giving Ohio the Mid-American Conference Tournament crown.
It was on that day, March 13, 2010, Cooper was introduced to the world. He and Bassett combined for 48 points to lead the ninth-seeded Bobcats to a most improbable MAC Championship victory.
Cooper’s fairy tale continued into the NCAA Tournament when he scored 23 points and added eight assists in Ohio’s upset of No. 3 Georgetown. But it’s on the floor of the Quicken Loans Arena (the Q) in Cleveland, Ohio, home of the MAC Tournament, where Cooper has made the most lasting marks.
In his career, Cooper touts a 6-1 record at the Q, his only loss coming by three points at the hands of Ball State in 2011. (He still recorded 19 points and 10 assists for a double-double.) In the days since that memorable win over Akron in 2010, however, Cooper has been king of the court in Cleveland.
Cooper has averaged just more than 14.5 points per game in his Ohio career. Since scoring 23 against Akron in 2010, the guard has averaged 20.2 points per game in the Q—23 points per game in title games. He’s also added 7.2 assists per game since the 2010 championship. Cooper says the tournament brings out the best in he and his team.
“I think that’s when you’re supposed to play your best ball,” he said. “That’s when you step up your play and that’s when the team needs you.”
Cooper’s field goal percentage, however, drops by more than three percentage points when playing in the Q but he shoots just about the same amount—12 shots per game. This season, on the other hand, is Cooper’s best season in terms of field goal percentage. In his first three seasons, Cooper made 36.8 percent from the field. This season, he’s shot the ball at 42.9 percent accuracy. Mathematically speaking, this season could spell Cooper’s best yet for scoring come tournament time.
Despite his memorable performances of the past and this year’s lofty expectation, Cooper says he and his team remain focused. He added that this time of year is when Ohio plays its most sound basketball because of what it wants to achieve when the Bobcats play in the Q.
“Just remember where you’ve got to get,” said Cooper. “We know where we’ve got to get to and we’ll see what it takes.”
“What it takes” to win the MAC Tournament this year may be another dazzling performance by Cooper in an arena where he’s already had incredible success. When in doubt, Ohio always turns to its star point guard. The 2013 MAC Player of the Year could again be the catalyst when the Bobcats head to Cleveland, Cooper’s town.
*Matthew Doyle contributed to this report.