141562594 Rising Star: Ohios D.J. Cooper

(credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

By: Mark Chalifoux

Ohio point guard D.J. Cooper isn’t a Cinderella, he’s a giant-killer. The 13-seeded Bobcats are the natural media darling in the sweet 16 as the Bobcats are the only mid-major left, but make no mistake, this run didn’t come as a surprise to Cooper.

“We’re confident and we feel like we can play with anyone,” Cooper said. “I feel like I can compete with anyone in the country.”

While the Bobcats became the first 13-seed to hit the sweet 16 since 2006, Ohio also had a major upset the last time it was in the tournament. In 2010, 14-seeded Ohio upset 3-seeded Georgetown in the first round, partly thanks to Cooper (then a freshman) scoring 23-points.

Now a junior, Cooper has led the Bobcats to the sweet 16 by cutting down the Big 10 co-champs in Michigan and by outlasting South Florida in the second round. The Bobcats got into the Big Dance by taking down Akron 64-63 in the MAC Championship. Cooper scored 23 in the MAC final and 21 points against Michigan. Against South Florida, he scored 19 and added a team-best seven assists and six rebounds.

Cooper is definitely a player that shines on the big stage.

“I just step it up a little more,” Cooper said. “I try even more to make my teammates succeed. And we were happy to get to the sweet 16. We haven’t been there since 1964 so it’s a big accomplishment for us. We were excited. We celebrated for 24 hours and now we get ready for North Carolina.”

North Carolina, even if point guard Kendall Marshall can’t play, should be the heavy favorite on paper. This Bobcats team isn’t a fluke. It’s head coach John Groce’s deepest team and one of the best Bobcats teams in program history. Still, it’s Cooper that sets the tone and his shot will have to fall for the Bobcats to have a chance to keep making history.

One thing is certain: If Ohio goes down against UNC, the Bobcats won’t go down without a fight.

“They like to play it NBA-style, so we’ll have to bring our NBA game,” Cooper said. “We got here by playing solid defense, playing as a team and trusting in each other, so we’re confident. We’re going to play hard every possession.”

Cooper has helped the Cats engineer some of the bigger upsets in the tournament over the past years, so it will be interesting to see if Ohio can continue busting brackets.

Video: Ohio Highlights from Michigan upset.

Mark Chalifoux is a contributor to CBS Local Digital Media and can be reached at mark.chalifoux@gmail.com.


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