Ohio has already passed Kent State in the Mid-American Conference standings, but the Bobcats’ starting point guard is looking to pass his way past another flashy mark.
Junior D.J. Cooper needs only six assists to pass Dennis Whitaker and break Ohio’s all-time assists record in only his third season with the Bobcats. He is the only player on Ohio’s top 10 list who has not played a fourth year in Athens.
Cooper is only the second player in school history to notch 600 assists as a Bobcat and the only player to notch 200 assists in a season. He’s done that twice.
“One thing about him that’s unique is you have to remind these guys sometimes to play with their hands up because he throws passes that if you’re not ready are going to go off their hands,” coach John Groce said. “It’s an unselfish category, setting guys up to score, and he does it as good as anybody I’ve coached.”
He’ll have a chance to pass his way into history against Kent State in a Wednesday night matchup with postseason implications.
The Golden Flashes (19-9, 9-5 MAC) enter the contest on a three-game skid, including losses to the fifth-and sixth-place teams in the MAC East. They’ll need to snap that streak against the Bobcats (23-6, 10-4 MAC) to stay in the driver’s seat for a bye in the upcoming conference tournament.
Ohio, meanwhile, can clinch a two-round bye with a win against Kent State. If Ohio wins and Buffalo loses to Akron, the Bobcats will get a triple bye into the tournament semifinals, though that would also eliminate their shot at a MAC East title.
“We’re aware of what’s going on, but we just can only control what we control,” junior forward Reggie Keely said. “We’ve got to come out and try to be prepared to beat Kent State, and that’s the only thing we’re worried about right now.”
The Golden Flashes swept the MAC West, but they are only 3-5 against MAC East opponents. Ohio is the only team that has defeated every foe in the division, and Kent State is one of two MAC East squads that lost to all five divisional opponents. That puts more pressure on a unit that has won the last two MAC regular-season titles and was picked to finish the three-peat.
“For us right now, every time we play a rivalry game, you can throw it out the window, the records and all that stuff,” Groce said. “It’s always nasty, and I think they’ll have an edge to them tomorrow.”
Ohio has twice as many wins as Kent State in their all-time series, but the Bobcats have only one win at the M.A.C. Center since 2001.
With Ohio a step away from a free pass into the heart of the MAC tournament and Cooper only six passes away from history, there will be plenty on the line in Kent Wednesday night.
“It’s a big accomplishment,” Cooper said. “It’s an accomplishment for me and my team, for me to be able to find guys and them being able to finish.