Even as he hobbled on his ankle, D.J. Cooper had the strength to carry his team on his back.
Fighting off an ankle injury he suffered against Toledo last Wednesday, Cooper tallied 17 points and five assists Saturday in Ohio’s 85-83 defeat at the hands of Western Michigan. He was a game-time decision, but came off the bench early and played 32 minutes.
“I got to give a lot of credit to our trainers this week,” coach John Groce said. “They did everything they could do to help D.J. I didn’t know he was going to play until right before the game.”
Cooper warmed up during pregame layup lines to test the ankle out. Although he wasn’t in the starting lineup, he checked in at 15:16 and rarely left the court after the substitution.
Despite Cooper’s hurt ankle, Groce played him the entire second half. Cooper constantly cut through the Bronco defense as he became more acclimated to the hurt ankle.
His 3-pointer with six seconds to play brought the Bobcats within two points of the Broncos, but Tommy Freeman missed the final chance to take the lead as his 3-point attempt bounced off the rim as time expired.
“He played well today,” Groce said. “With everything he and our trainers dealt with during the week, I thought he played very good.”
A month ago, freshman Ricardo Johnson looked like a lost first-year player, struggling to get onto the floor and make an impact.
Now, Johnson has quickly turned into one of the Bobcats’ top contributors. With his confidence growing, he made important baskets as Ohio tried to come back against Western Michigan.
He banked in a layup to make the score 74-73. The next possession, Johnson pulled down an offensive board and sank a jumper to bring Ohio within one point again.
Johnson finished with 10 points, most of which came in the closing minutes of the second half.
Johnson’s progress presents an interesting situation for Groce. With T.J. Hall not playing as well as he did early in the season, Johnson could take some minutes as a back-up forward. Just a month ago, Hall was starting over Freeman atthe small forward position.
“He’s just learning his role,” Groce said about Johnson last week. “He’s coming along quickly and is getting things done on both ends of the court.”