Bob Boldon doesn’t want to hear any of your ‘new year, new me!’ hyperbole.
To him, it’s clear what his team is at this point in time following Saturday’s 90-87 home loss to Central Michigan in the Convocation Center.
The loss was the second in a row for Ohio (3-3, 1-2 Mid-American Conference), but its third straight against the Chippewas (5-2, 3-0 MAC). The margin of those three consecutive defeats — which like Saturday were all close, high-scoring games decided in the final minute — is a tantalizingly close seven combined points.
CMU has posted wins in each of its last five games at the Ohio’s Convocation Center.
All of which left Boldon in a surly mood afterward. The Bobcats have been close, but haven’t been able to dislodge CMU from the top of the MAC. The Chips have won eight of the last nine overall meetings against the Bobcats.
“The hardest thing to swallow…is this is what we are, a mediocre team,” Boldon said. “The hopes of Ohio Basketball are never to just be a .500 team.”
But that’s what the Bobcats are currently after the Chips did just enough — like they always do — to win a close game in the fourth quarter, which featured six lead changes and four times.
Reigning MAC Player of the Year Micaela Kelly, who logged a game-high 28 points with 14 coming in the final 6:32, snapped an 82-82 tie with a straight-on 3-pointer with 37.6 seconds left.
After OU closed to within 85-84 on Madi Mace’s driving layup, Kelly left the door open a crack by missing the second of two free throws. But CMU got the rebound, got fouled and Molly Davis hit two free throws to make it 88-84 with 20.3 seconds left.
It’s the kind of play that CMU always seems to find against Ohio.
“That’s a rebound we got to have,” said Ohio junior Erica Johnson. “I got to grab that rebound.”
Cece Hooks scored with 12.0 seconds left to cut the deficit to two, then – incredibly – CMU threw away the inbounds pass. The sequence ended with senior forward Gabby Burris being fouled with 7.2 seconds left. But, Burris missed the first free throw and CMU still led 88-87 after she converted the second.
On the next in-bounds play, Kelly broke free against full court pressure for a layup with 3.8 seconds left and the 90-87 final score.
And the Bobcats had another near-miss against the Chips to stew about.
“We got to find a way to finish these games,” said Johnson. “We can’t seem to figure it out.”
Davis added 23 points and 10 rebounds for CMU, which was picked to repeat as league champs this year. Maddy Watters added 17 points and six assists. Kalle Martinez, who entered with two made 3s on the season, hit three in a 90-second stretch to help the Chips erase a seven-point deficit and take a 64-60 lead into the fourth.
CMU finished with 15 made 3-pointers after shooting 42.9 percent from the arc. Ohio connected on just 7-of-37 from long range (18.9 percent).
“It was not our day,” Johnson said about the shooting. “We kept trying to shoot our way out of it.”
Hooks bagged a team-high 22 points and grabbed seven rebounds to lead five Ohio players in double figures; she also added team-highs of three assists and three steals. Johnson finished with 21 points and nine boards, but had just seven points in the second half.
Mace, a redshirt freshman, chipped in 11 points and eight rebounds off the bench, while Burris (12) and Peyton Guice (10 points) also hit double figures.
“We’re in kind of weird place with three conference games already and it’s the first of January,” Boldon said. “But (Mace) is in a really good place as a freshman. She’s been a big part of things.”
Ohio missed its first eight 3-pointers and trailed 16-9 just five minutes in, and by a 24-17 count at the end of the first quarter. But the Bobcats caught fire in the second, and used separate runs of 11-0 and 9-0 to take a 43-35 lead into half thanks to Johnson’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer.
OU led 57-50 with three minutes left in the third quarter before Martinez led a 14-3 finish in the frame for the Chips. In the fourth, Kelly dominated the final seven minutes.
“She’s the best player in the league, hands down,” Boldon said.
With 17 scheduled league games remaining, the Bobcats remain firmly in contention. Ohio has the top two scorers in the league with Hooks and Johnson, but hasn’t been able to defend at the level needed to close out games.
In each of Ohio’s losses – vs. CMU, at Kent State and at West Virginia – the Bobcats led in the fourth quarter.
“You’ve got to be able to guard, and we haven’t guarded in the second half all year,” Boldon said. “And if you can get stops, you have to score a lot of points to beat a time like that.”
OU has two weeks to figure it out. The Bobcats play at CMU on Jan. 16. The next scheduled game is Wednesday at Miami.