Published on March 19th, 2012 | by Mark Travis, Founder0
In Coop They Trust
A lost possession. A wasted opportunity to build upon the lead. A boost of confidence for a team dying for a stop. One of those plays that you can look back on and say “if only we could have executed a bit better” when watching film. That’s what what turned out to be the game-clinching play in Ohio’s round of 32 match-up against USF seemed like until Bobcat point guard D.J. Cooper decided to spread his pixie dust all over the floor in Nashville.
With just over two minutes left in the game it was obvious that a hero shot was required to save the possession based solely on where Ohio’s players were positioned on the floor. The Bobcats initial play didn’t create a good look and Cooper caught the ball at half-court as a last resort with just eight seconds left to shoot it. Cooper has proven many times during this tournament that he has unlimited range. But even for him, a pull-up three from 36 feet out would be impossible, not to mention questionable. In such a crucial moment, Bobcats head coach John Groce could have opted to use one of his three remaining timeouts to set up a clean look. But Groce decided against it, allowing his junior leader to work with what he had.
Ohio forward Reggie Keely came up quickly to set a screen for Cooper but with so little time on the clock, USF decided to double Cooper off the screen, making matters worse for the Bobcats. As the Bulls doubled Cooper at the three-point line there were just three seconds left on the shot clock and the crowd was already counting down the clock aloud. What happened next was incredibly improbable and nearly unbelievable. As the crowd reached one Cooper still had his dribble alive and it seemed like an absolute certainty that a shot clock violation was coming.
But somehow, some way, after spinning off of the double team, Cooper tossed up a left-handed floater over the outstretched arm of his recovering defender, knocking it in at the shot clock buzzer. The shot gave Cooper 16 points on the game and the Bobcats a 58-51 lead, which was all but insurmountable in a game like yesterday’s, with just 1:35 left to play.
Hit the jump for the rest of Mark’s piece…
Going back to the 14:07 mark in the second half when the Bobcats were down 35-33, Cooper was responsible for 20 of Ohio’s final 29 points of the contest. Nine of those points were scored by Cooper while 11 of those points were scored off of his assists (including two threes by Nick Kellogg, one three by Walter Offutt and a lay-up for Jon Smith).
That is why Ohio’s faithful has rightfully bought into the monicker “In Coop We Trust.”
In addition to a masterful game from Offutt, who scored a game high 21 points and hit some of the biggest shots of the game with extreme confidence, Cooper put together his second brilliant performance in as many games during the NCAA Tournament. He finished with 19 points, seven assists, six rebounds and two assists against the Bulls while his match-up, mostly freshman point guard Anthony Collins, scored just seven points on five shots while Cooper checked him.
Cooper’s scoring exploits late in games – he scored five of Ohio’s last six points to effectively close out the victory – is impressive and speaks to his incredible poise as a leader and floor general. But what’s been even eloquent about Cooper’s performance in the tourney has been his impassioned exploits as a passer. There are so many times when watching Cooper play when you question what the next sequence is during a play. And so many times, he proves you wrong by finding some inconceivable passing lane, which he uses to teleport the ball from an inefficient position on the floor to a wide open look for a teammate, usually in their sweet spot.
There was a moment in yesterday’s game (pictured above) when Cooper drove baseline from the left corner and elevated into no man’s land right underneath the basket. Cooper had no intention of doing his best Julius Erving impersonation, but the entire defense thought he was. The Bulls are an excellent defensive team but when Cooper start flying below the basket, USF’s weakside defender committed a cardinal sin, leaving his man wide open in the corner in order to contest a shot that would have been impossible anyways. Cooper is way to good to do that against and the sly lefty easily dished it to the corner to a wide open T.J. Hall. Even if Hall isn’t necessarily a great three-point shooter that is exactly the kind of look that can make anyone with solid form into a knockdown shooter.
Cooper’s decision to go airborne beneath the rim was risky. Had USF’s defense stayed solid, he would been in a rough position, one in which a turnover would almost be guaranteed either by a forced pass or Cooper inevitably falling back to earth for a travel. But those are the kind of risks that Cooper routinely turns into successful plays, especially over the last couple of weeks as Cooper he has led the Bobcats on an incredible ride from the Mac Tournament to the Sweet 16.
Part of me died inside when Kendall Marshall broke his wrist in the second half of what turned out to be a blowout against Creighton mostly because a match-up between Marshall and Cooper would have been one of the best of the tournament. On the other hand, Ohio having a positional advantage over the North Carolina increases their chances in what will be the most lopsided match-up seed wise in the Sweet 16. While you’d always like to see teams at their best come tournament time, the door is open for the Bobcats to pull off an upset for the ages on Friday. And with Marshall out, that door is open a little bit wider.
Even with two impressive upsets thus far, there won’t be many picking the Bobcats to pull off a third. Obviously, there’s good reason for that. Even without Marshall the Tar Heels possess two lottery picks in Tyler Zeller and John Henson. But rooting for the favorites in March is no fun and after what the Bobcats have shown over the past few days, it’s clear they have the heart to pull it off.
And as long as Ohio has D.J. Cooper suiting up at point guard, In Coop I Will Trust.