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Sports Column: Cooper’s performance, leadership seal team’s win
It was only one game and certainly nothing to get worked up about, but in Ohio’s 81-52 victory against Portland on Saturday, senior guard D.J. Cooper looked poised to blaze his way through a season that has as high of outlooks as any he has ever prepared for.
He looked to be in midseason form, running Ohio’s offense like it was gearing up for a Mid-American Conference tournament run.
Cooper had a hand in Ohio’s first 14 points of the game, scoring six of them on three-pointers to open the Bobcats’ scoring, while the other eight came off his assists.
Later in the half, Cooper sank a jumper to put Ohio ahead 23-21 with 7:15 left in the first stanza. After the scoreboard ticked past the half’s two minute mark with Ohio trailing by six points, Cooper ignited the offense by scoring seven of the Bobcats’ final nine points of the half to tie the contest at 33 apiece.
Ohio coach Jim Christian incessantly talks about making “identity plays,” which define the best foot the Bobcats strive to put forward. It is no secret that Cooper is the catalyst in establishing that first step. He elevates the play of his teammates to the next level. He is the grease for Ohio’s squeaky wheel, so to speak.
“I was just trying to make plays, and take whatever the defense gave me,” Cooper said. “At the (first half) media timeout, coach told us, ‘Let’s make our run right here,’ and we turned it up on defense and made a couple big plays toward the end.”
Cooper’s final stat line of 18 points, six assists, five rebounds and three steals indicates he is again ready to take control for Ohio when it hits a lull in production like it did toward the end of the first half Saturday.
“I am always interested in the response,” Christian said, of Ohio’s sloppy first half play. “What I was proud of in the second half is we started to play the game we have been playing … and took control of the pace of the game.”
Ohio finished the game on a 48-19 run to defeat a Portland squad that simply ran out of steam and was overmatched against Ohio’s upbeat attack.
Ohio retained its confidence despite shots not finding twine early — something Christian said is important for him to instill in the squad.
“I think the most important thing for our team is that they don’t see panic,” he said. “You have to believe and have confidence in them. There’s not going to be a perfect game out here. I think everybody (who) expects that is going to be in for an awakening.”
Cooper led his team through the minor swoon and helped facilitate the offense to secure a healthy lead in the game.
His 1,613 career points put him on pace to become a top-five scorer in school history, and he is already the Bobcats’ career leader in steals and assists.
Cooper is hailed for his on-court vision, but it remains to be seen where his leadership will take the Bobcats this season.
Nick Robbe is a senior studying journalism and the sports editor for The Post. How do you think this season will go? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org