NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Ivo Baltic proudly stretched out the front of his Ohio University jersey and slowly walked along press row displaying it.
D.J. Cooper gave a quick salute to the adoring Ohio fans, who were proudly chanting, “We are Ohio.”
Otherwise, there weren’t a lot of showy celebrations from the No. 13-seeded Bobcats, who acted very much like they’d been there and done that Friday night in sending No. 4-seeded Michigan packing 65-60 in the second round of the Midwest Regional at Bridgestone Arena.
“We want to set a higher standard for this program,” Cooper said. “You can’t set the kind of standard we want to set in one game.”
On a day that saw its share of upheaval in the NCAA tournament, the Bobcats served notice that this wasn’t their first time at the Dance.
And Cooper, in particular, reminded everyone that he can dance with the best of them.
The Wolverines had no answers for him. He got into the lane area when he wanted to and also hit three of his six 3-point attempts. He finished with a game-high 21 points and handed out 5 assists in 37 minutes.
It was reminiscent of what Cooper did to Georgetown two years ago as a freshman when he scored 23 points in the 97-83 upset of the Hoyas.
Now a junior, Cooper is even better, and he’s the kind of explosive guard who makes everybody else look like they’re running in quicksand.
“He’s a terrific talent,” Ohio coach John Groce said. “They saw him two years ago and they saw him tonight. He’s spectacular. He’s our quarterback. We go as he goes, especially on offense.”
It’s no coincidence that the Bobcats are unbeaten this season when Cooper shoots at least 50 percent from the field.
He got great looks on Friday and was patient, something his coach preaches religiously. Cooper was shooting just 34.8 percent from the field coming into the NCAA tournament.
“Coach gets onto me about settling [for jump shots], and I do settle sometimes,” Cooper conceded. “When your coach has that kind of confidence in you, you feel like nobody can stop you.”
The 5-foot-11, 165-pound Cooper wasn’t a blue-chip recruit coming out of Chicago. He picked Ohio over Kent State and Loyola (Ill.). Baylor also offered late, but Cooper said it was only after the Bears struck out on John Wall.
He hit it off with Groce instantly and wanted to be part of something that was building.
“We had different kids step up,” Groce said. “Obviously, D.J. is a special talent and just has a great knack for making guys better and has learned to play the position better over the years. We’re just grateful that he’s wearing the green and white.”
Michigan coach John Beilein sees a lot of premier guards in the Big Ten. He’s not sure he’s seen a better one this season than Cooper.
“He’s as good a guard as we played against this year,” Beilein said. “He’s tremendous. So he puts pressure on others to get help, and then, or not give help and play one-on-one in the post. [They’ve] got a really good team.”