The work-in-progress approach the Cooper boys basketball team has taken to its season is staring to pay off.
The Hawks upended Benilde-St. Margaret’s Jan. 15, pulling away for a 71-50 victory that kept Cooper perfect in North Suburban Conference play.
What impressed head coach Steve Burton most was no the margin of victory, but the way the Hawks went about getting there.
Junior Rashad Vaughn did his thing, scoring a game-high 26 points, but his teammates were in on the action plenty.
Lavar McCullough scored 10 points. Marques Gray and Billy Kellogg had nine each. Brandon Robinson finished with eight, and Levonte Taylor added seven.
“We need that balance,” said Burton. “I was happy with the way guys started to take some ownership, and learned how to play with somebody at the skill level of a Rashad Vaughn. We know what Rashad can do, but if we are going to win games, we needed to get him some help.”
Burton pointed to Kellogg’s contributions as the most important, and he wasn’t speaking of the nine points the senior guard ended up with.
“He is starting to run the team out there, and do what I expect out of my point guard,” said Burton. “He has to be an extension of me out on the floor, and that is exactly what he was. He was a leader.”
The victory also helped Cooper stay on track in finishing what Burton called his team’s most prominent regular season goal.
The Hawks last won a North Suburban Conference championship in 2009-10 when that group finished off the conference season with a 15-1 mark.
Their league record dropped to 10-6 (fifth place) in 2010-11, and then 7-9 (seventh-place) just last season.
At 5-0 now – Cooper also beat Fridley 87-64 Jan. 18 – the Hawks are well on pace to blow by last season’s league record.
“My goal and our goal is to be the conference champions,” said Burton. “It’s been a few years since Cooper has won the conference championship. We don’t want it to be any longer than that.”
Girls win as well
Cooper girls basketball coach Jennifer Rademacher and her players have an objective this year, and it is a lofty one.
The Hawks aren’t intent on just contending for – or even winning – a North Suburban Conference title this winter. They want to be perfect in doing so.
“My challenge to them has been to go undefeated in the conference season,” said Rademacher, “The main thing is we don’t want to be the team that is chasing anybody. We want them chasing us.”
Cooper took a major step in remaining the hunted last week.
The Hawks rallied from a five-point halftime deficit to beat four-time defending NSC champion Benilde-St. Margaret’s 54-47 Jan. 15.
Talayiah Rich led the way with 25 points, as Cooper won a critical game if their hopes of an undefeated conference season are to come to fruition.
“They are a good basketball team, so I was really proud of the way we played in the second half,” said Rademacher. “It was a huge game for us. I didn’t need to say too much beforehand of the importance of it. We didn’t play well early on, but he kids came back and took care of business when it mattered.”
Like the boys, the Cooper girls also beat Fridley Jan. 18 – the girls won 73-32 – to move to 7-0 in league play.
Contact Nick Clark at [email protected]