After struggling to get into an offensive flow early in its Sweet Sixteen debut, Cooper scored the ball early and often in a 58-33 rout of Collins in the quarterfinals of the 100th Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys’ Sweet Sixteen Friday evening at Rupp Arena.
Sean McNeil, a senior who’s signed with Bellarmine, scored a game-high 19 points for the Jaguars. Junior Adam Kunkel, who holds offers from Central Arkansas and Samford, scored 16 points on 7-for-9 shooting for Cooper.
“Luckily, tonight, everybody was a just a little less freaking out and settled down a little bit after we got our first game out of the way,” McNeil said.
Box score: Cooper 58, Collins 33
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The Jaguars briefly trailer in their first-round opener against Meade County and shot only 37 percent against the Green Wave on Thursday. Cooper made three of its first four shots and didn’t miss more than two consecutive shots versus Collins until its starters left the game about midway through the fourth quarter.
Cooper, which prides itself on its defense, held the Titans to 11 of 48 shooting and a 2-for-12 mark from beyond the three-point arc. Cooper finished 24 of 48 from the field.
It was a battle of programs still in their infancy. Cooper, which opened in the fall of 2008, is in its first Sweet Sixteen. Collins opened two years later and was coming off its first win in two state-tournament trips.
“For those two schools to go out there and compete tonight was very special,” Cooper Coach Tim Sullivan said. “ ... Offensively, we knew we weren’t gonna shoot it like we did last night. Our guys got way too much confidence and they play with a swag to ’em that as long as we’re guarding, that offensive side of the ball, it’ll happen for us.”
While Cooper got out to a hot start the reverse was true for Collins; the Titans went 1-for-8 in the first quarter. Dominique Turner, a senior, led the Titans with 10 points but was 2-for-10 from the floor. Leading scorer and rebounder Charlie Cochran grabbed seven boards but only had one point on two shot attempts for the Titans.
Titans Coach Chris Gaither said that his team lost to Cooper in a holiday tournament two seasons ago but that in the time since the Jaguars’ defensive mentality has evolved to a championship level. The result of that game? 60-54.
“They came into this game holding opponents to 34 points a game in the postseason and they can guard you really well,” Gaither said. “They guarded us well tonight. I want to commend Cooper and their coaching staff for the tremendous work that they’ve done.”
Up to this point Cooper, ranked fifth in the field, was a favorite. It will be an underdog regardless of whether it sees Ballard or Fern Creek in the semifinals, and wouldn’t be favored if it were to see Bowling Green on Sunday.
“Whether you’re the underdog or not, there’s a right way to play and a wrong way to play,” Sullivan said, “and I think our guys understand that no matter if you’re the underdog, you do what you do and you do what’s got you here. There’s no magic potion.”