On the basketball court, Cece Hooks believes there’s not a single matchup she can’t win, not a play she can’t make, and that she’ll always find a way to impact the game.
Off the floor, her mother told Hooks – Ohio’s senior guard – she wasn’t actually DOING enough.
“My mom has been getting on me,” Hooks said Saturday afternoon, after the Bobcats dispatched visiting Toledo 85-66 at the Convocation Center. “She’s been telling me I haven’t been stealing the ball enough.”
Message received. Hooks, Ohio’s single-season and career steals record holder, had a game-high 24 points and tallied season highs of six steals and four blocked shots as the Bobcats (5-3, 3-2 Mid-American Conference) locked down the Rockets every step of the way.
“We were more intentional about guarding,” said Ohio head coach Bob Boldon.
It showed. Toledo (6-3, 2-3 MAC) missed its first nine shots from the field as OU raced out to a 13-2 lead less than five minutes in. The Rockets never led, and never saw the deficit dip into single digits after Ohio ended the first quarter with a 24-13 lead.
By the middle of the third quarter, the Bobcats had ironed out a 60-32 lead. To that point, Toledo was shooting less than 19 percent from the floor. For the game, the Rockets shot just 35.1 percent overall, hit 4 of 21 from 3-point range, lost the rebounding battle 46-40 and coughed up 20 turnovers.
Hooks, the two-time MAC Defensive Player of the Year, led the defensive effort every step of the away, from ball pressure, to anticipating passes, to rebounding, to denying shots.
“This week it’s been fantastic,” Boldon said of Hooks’ defensive play, and echoing the sentiment of Hooks’ mother. “Today, she was everywhere. It’s the effort we’ve come to expect … We’re excited about where we’re at with her.”
Ohio got more than just defense. Erica Johnson (11 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists) and Gabby Burris (10 points, 10 rebounds) posted double-doubles. Newcomer Madi Mace had an effective stint off the bench (8 points, 8 rebounds).
And junior guard Caitlyn Kroll posted 14 points while hitting 4-of-6 from 3-point range. It was an Ohio career high for Kroll, who is starting to see some dividends from dedicated post-practice shooting work.
Kroll came up with the routine, which consists of 100 3-point makes per session against a clock, after going 0-for-5 from 3 against Central Michigan on Jan. 2.
“I know I’m a shooter. I had to change something,” Kroll said. “It definitely helps with my confidence.”
It was as complete a performance as Ohio has had in weeks. With the Bobcats still chasing four other teams in the MAC standings, Boldon admitted it’s been difficult for his players to find out how they fit in around Hooks, Johnson and Burris – three well established vets.
The preseason schedule was truncated. The nonconference slate was shortened. And the COVID-19 pandemic has forced at least one pause on the program and lots of uncertainty.
But Saturday was a much-needed step in the right direction.
“The difficult thing is everyone else finding their place,” Boldon said. “It’s hindered the development of kids 4 through 14 (on the roster).”
With 15 scheduled games remaining, Ohio proved Saturday there’s still room to grow and it’s still capable of doing so.
“Defense has been a special topic all week for us, and in the first half today it was really, really good,” Kroll said. “Overall, we got better today.”
Ohio will try to continue to get better on Wednesday, when it hosts Ball State (4-5, 2-3 MAC) in the Convo at 6 p.m.