One of the best players to put on an Ohio jersey, senior guard D.J. Cooper had a night to remember.
Not only did the Chicago native become Ohio’s all-time leader in career three-point makes and the first player in NCAA D-I history to achieve 2,000 points, 900 assists, 600 rebounds and 300 steals, but he also collected another win to add to his career total.
The Ohio Bobcats (22-8, 13-2 Mid-American Conference) officially claimed the No. 2 seed in the MAC Tournament with a come-from-behind 72-69 victory against the Buffalo Bulls at Alumni Arena.
“It came down to getting stops,” Ohio coach Jim Christian said. “We kept our composure late and D.J. (Cooper) made a ridiculous shot to help us win tonight.”
Cooper scored 24 points and dished out five assists, while senior forward Reggie Keely added nine points and junior guard Nick Kellogg chipped in with seven points. Senior forward Ivo Baltic scored 12 points and grabbed two rebounds off the bench for the Bobcats, something which pleased Christian.
“He was aggressive offensively,” he said. “He played a good game tonight.”
With the win, the Bobcats finished with a 7-1 conference record on the road. Christian has been impressed with the results.
“The team grew over time,” he said. “I have been impressed with our guys staying together. We made a lot of plays tonight.”
Sophomore forward Will Regan led the Bulls with 20 points. The Buffalo native also collected eight rebounds. Junior forward Javon McCrea scored 19 points and grabbed five rebounds, while senior guard Tony Watson added 11 points and 11 rebounds.
For the second consecutive game, the Bobcats started out of the gates slowly. A pair of three-point field goals from Jarryn Skeete and Watson handed the Bulls a 12-2 lead with 2:53 gone in the first half.
Although the Bobcats were down early, they got big contributions from their bench. A pair of Stevie Taylor jump shots and a jumper and layup from Baltic cut Buffalo’s lead to four, 23-19, with 9:15 remaining until halftime.
A pair of Walter Offutt free throws gave Ohio their first lead of the night at 24-23 with 8:02 left in the first half, and a Travis Wilkins mid-range jumper and three-point bomb from Cooper gave Ohio a 35-31 lead with 2:48 until intermission.
Two more jumpers from Baltic and another three from Cooper gave Ohio a 42-37 lead at the break.
Ohio shot 56 percent from the field in the first half (18-of-32), while Buffalo shot 52 percent from the field (14-of-27). The Bulls held a 15-10 rebounding edge, but the Bobcats had seven steals in the first half compared to Buffalo’s two.
In the second half, Buffalo (12-18, 7-8 MAC) got off to another quick start. A McCrea layup and Regan three-pointer tied the game at 42 with 1:41 gone in the second half.
Ohio answered with a strong response. A Kellogg three-pointer and layups from Cooper and Baltic guided Ohio to a 9-0 run and a 51-42 lead.
Consecutive baskets from Keely and a jumper from Cooper maintained Ohio’s nine point lead at 60-51 with nine minutes left. However, Buffalo had one last run in them.
The Bulls went on an 18-3 run, thanks in part to layups from McCrea and Regan and free throws from Watson. But, as they have done so often this season, Ohio conjured up a response.
With the Bobcats down 69-67, Cooper buried a three-pointer, his fifth of the night, to give the Bobcats a one-point lead with 94 seconds left.
“You get criticized if you miss those types of shots,” Cooper said of his game-winner. “Coach Christian puts faith in me. I take my practice habits into the game and tonight I knocked it down.”
With three seconds left, Watson had a chance to be the hero for the Bulls, but he threw up an air ball, and Kellogg was fouled with one second left and calmly hit two free throws to give the ‘Cats their sixth straight win against the Bulls.
“I will have to give him (Tommy Freeman) a call tonight,” Cooper said about his incredible night. “I enjoyed playing with him for two years. It’s a blessing (to score 2,000 points). I have to thank the man upstairs for letting me play this many games.”
Before they head for Cleveland, the Bobcats have one more regular season game left. The Bobcats will be hoping to win their third straight game when the take on bitter rival Miami on March 9 at the Convocation Center. Tip-off is set for 4 p.m.