Updated Sat, Mar 16, 2013 3:25 pm
Ohio point guard D.J. Cooper sat in front of the microphone after Friday night’s 74-63 win over Western Michigan, staring out at a crowd of reporters ready to fire questions at the Mid-American Conference Player of the Year.
The soft-spoken senior had led his team to the MAC Championship for the third time in his four-year career after recording a double-double against the Broncos with a game-high 21 points and 10 assists.
When a reporter asked him what he thought about facing Akron for a chance to make the NCAA Tournament, Cooper gave a little smirk and said, “It’s only right.”
There’s a different confidence in Cooper when he enters the MAC Tournament. He shoots, passes, and defends so assertively that it nearly becomes cockiness.
The Bobcats opened the 2013 MAC Tournament with a 41-24 halftime lead. Cooper had nine points and eight assists. He was just being the typical D.J. Cooper that other MAC coaches hate to play against.
When the Broncos narrowed the lead to two points in the second half, the point guard came down and nailed a 25-footer to stop the run. After knocking down the shot, Cooper gave a “calm down, I’ve got this” gesture to his teammates.
In two career MAC Championship games, both against the Zips, Cooper has averaged 23.0 points and 6.0 assists. Both games have been decided in overtime, with Ohio gaining the advantage beyond regulation. Only four players remain on the two teams from the 2010 overtime game, while most of the both rosters remember what happened last year.
The Bobcats edged Akron, 64-63, in overtime in 2012. Cooper and Alex Abreu went back and forth at the point guard position, scoring 23 and 19 points, respectively. The next highest scorer in the game was Quincy Diggs, who had 12 points and six rebounds off Akron’s bench.
However, the Zips are without Diggs and Abreu this year. Diggs, a senior, was suspended at the before the season for violating the University of Akron student code, while Abreu was recently arrested on drug charges. Without the two, it has put more pressure on Zeke Marshall to play bigger.
The 7-foot senior averages just eight points and four rebounds against the Bobcats in the MAC Championship. This season, though, Marshall has averaged 16.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.0 blocks against Ohio.
Marshall has been helped tremendously this season by the increase in production from Demetrius Treadwell. The 6-foot-7 forward only played 15 minutes in last year’s MAC Tournament game as a sophomore, but has broken out in his junior year to become one of the most dominant big men in the conference.
Even though a year separates the two from last year’s overtime game, the two teams are different. There are two new starters in each lineup. Both teams have greater depth. There’s a new coach on the Ohio side, but he has faced Akron in the MAC Championship before.
Can this Ohio senior class defeat the Zips in the MAC Championship once again or will the Zips finally get revenge on the Bobcats for the past two? Will D.J. Cooper continue to play unbelievably well against Akron in the MAC Tournament? Will Zeke Marshall finally perform well on the big stage without his starting point guard?
All of those questions will be answered tonight, as Ohio and Akron meet once again with an NCAA Tournament bid on the line.
If it were any other way, it just wouldn’t be right.