NORMAL — D.J. Cooper dreamed about a night like this at Redbird Arena. It just happened in a different uniform.
Cooper, who was heavily recruited by Illinois State, put on a sensational performance for Ohio University on Wednesday night. The slender 5-foot-11 sophomore guard scored 29 points and hit the winning basket with 31 seconds left as the Bobcats edged ISU, 67-65, before a crowd of 4,027 that included about 60 of Cooper’s family and friends.
“Before Ohio this was the school I wanted to come to,” said Cooper, a graduate of Seton Academy in Chicago. “Unfortunately, Terry Johnson committed right before I wanted to come down and visit.”
The Redbirds (6-3) had a chance to spoil Cooper’s night and pull out a victory in the final seconds.
ISU inbounded the ball under its own basket with 8.7 seconds left. Justin Clark got an open 3-point look from the right wing that hit the rim and bounced off as Ohio (5-3) secured the rebound and the victory.
“We probably were fortunate to get a good shot,” said ISU coach Tim Jankovich. “I never like to think about last shots. You have got to get in position where you don’t need a last shot.”
Jankovich felt the Redbirds did enough to win the game. ISU outrebounded the Bobcats, 44-31, and held the Mid-American Conference favorite to 39.7 percent field goal shooting.
Tony Lewis recorded the third double-double of his career with 15 points and 12 rebounds to lead ISU, while Jackie Carmichael had 16 points and eight boards.
But the Redbirds again struggled from the perimeter. ISU made 4 of 19 3-point attempts and also committed 18 turnovers that Ohio turned into 17 points.
“We had guys who really fought their tails off,” said Jankovich. “It wasn’t from lack of effort. Everyone is trying to make shots.”
Cooper made enough shots, assists (8) and steals (6) to make it even more painful for the Redbirds that Johnson snagged the available scholarship in the fall 2008. Johnson left ISU after last season and transferred to Wisconsin-Green Bay.
“Getting to play against some guys I know and Coach Jankovich and Coach (Paris) Parham, it was real good to get a win,” said Cooper.
Freshman Nick Kellogg was the recipient of many of Cooper’s pinpoint passes. The son of former Ohio State standout and CBS analyst Clark Kellogg had season highs of 19 points and five 3-pointers.
“His (Cooper’s) ability to get into the lane was a key to the game, for sure,” said Ohio coach John Groce.
ISU led the entire first half, taking a 29-27 lead at the intermission. Ohio finally went ahead, 39-37, with 14:15 left.
The lead went back and forth six times the rest of the way. The Redbirds seemed to gain some separation when Carmichael’s short jumper put them ahead, 62-57, with 3:45 left. But that was ISU’s last basket.
Meanwhile, Cooper took over. He scored 15 of Ohio’s last 19 points.
Lewis’ two free throws tied the score at 65 with 1:26 left. Both teams missed on their next possessions before Cooper drove inside and banked in a short shot.
“We didn’t take our time,” said Lewis. “We kind of rushed things; we were trying to settle down. They made a couple shots, and that’s the game.”
Redbird Report Card
FRONT COURT - B+: Tony Lewis posted a double-double and Jackie Carmichael nearly did as ISU dominated inside and held a 44-31 rebounding advantage.
BACKCOURT - C-: D.J. Cooper (29 points) scored almost at will, while freshman Nick Kellogg knocked down five wide-open 3-pointers.
BENCH - C: John Wilkins nearly posted double-double with nine points and nine rebounds. Justin Clark looked better in second half.
OVERALL - C: This is a game that ISU shouldn't lose at home and maybe won't in another month as the Redbirds gain more experience.