HALIFAX – Thomas Cooper took to the Scotiabank Centre court at 11:50 AM atlantic time locked in. Bobbing his head to whatever tune was bumping in his wireless Beats headphones. The Dinos wing had the look of a Raptor, ready to tear apart anyone coming his way.
After a run to the national title game last season, this year’s Dinos squad earned the #7 seed and the at-large bid (to the chagrin of many), which came along with a championship rematch against the Carleton Ravens in the first game of the tournament.
Although the Dinos came up short last season, Cooper got his in the title game, finishing with 25 points on 18 shots, as well as seven rebounds and four assists.
The Ravens were ready for him this time around.
Hedging hard off ball screens, sending multiple defenders his way, and bumping and bruising him every time he put the ball on the floor, the Ravens held him to just four first half points on 2/7 from the floor.
It was up to the speed of the Dinos backcourt of Jhonny Verrone and David Kapinga, who combined for 16 of the Dinos 31 points at the break, while also being the main reason Carleton committed 12 turnovers.
Knowing his final chase of a national championship was coming to a premature finish, Cooper came out of the break firing and put 7 points on the board. As the Dinos cut the lead to just five as the 3rd quarter ended, he pounded his fist on the media table as he walked back to the Calgary bench yelling “Let’s get it right now!”
He fought valiantly in the fourth quarter, but the backbreakers from the Ravens were too much to overcome. Whether it was a series of offensive rebounds from Cam Smythe, a Connor Wood bailout triple or a Kaza Kajami-Keane and-1, this year’s Dinos weren’t able to pull off the opening round upset of a lifetime.
While his last shot in a meaningful game rimmed out, Cooper was named Calgary’s Player of the Game as he played 39 minutes, led the team in scoring with 17 points and grabbed six boards and also dished out four dimes.
In the post game press conference, a somber Cooper reflected on his past two championship runs under Dan Vanhooren, and his basketball future.
“Last year we really didn’t have nothing to lose out here, so we just got out there and kept it going. Personally I was at the top of it you know. I’ve just learned how to be a leader this year, mostly. This year it’s been a lot harder because the team had a bigger target on their back, and I had a bigger target on my back and stuff like that. Learning how to pick defences apart and find my teammates and getting to certain spots on the floor…as for going forward I think me just being able to just be versatile and play different positions will help me have a long pro career.”
Although this was the last dance for Cooper at Calgary, don’t sleep on him, as the Chattanooga native’s waltzing in the basketball world, wherever it may be, is far from over.