Mid-American Conference officials did something no team has been able to do of late on Wednesday night as Ohio played host to Kent State in the Convocation Center.
They slowed down Cece Hooks.
But the Bobcats kept plugging along anyway.
With standouts Hooks (fouled out) and Erica Johnson (knee injury) on the bench, Ohio held off the Golden Flashes for an 85-70 win. The Bobcats (10-5, 8-4 MAC) closed the game with an 11-0 run, avenged an early season loss to KSU, and picked up their fifth win in the last six games.
“I feel like this is a big step for us,” said Hooks, who finished with a game-high 29 points, six rebounds, nine assists and seven steals in just 34 minutes. Hooks entered averaging 30.4 points per game in her last five contests.
Kent State (5-2, 4-1 MAC), which entered as the MAC leader but had not played since Jan. 9 due to a string of COVID-related postponements, was poised for an apparent fourth-quarter comeback. Trailing 70-56 with less than seven minutes to go, the Flashes rattled off a turnover-fueled 12-2 run to pull to within 72-68 in less than three minutes.
The run picked up steam when Hooks was called for her fourth and fifth fouls just 17 seconds apart. Both calls were on the offensive end of the floor, and only added fuel to the Flashes’ effort.
“It’s definitely like, whoa, when that happened,” said Ohio senior forward Gabby Burris. “It can happen to anybody and it can happen so fast.”
While Ohio had two 1,000-point scorers on the bench at that point, it still had one of the floor and a cast of supporting characters starting to find their groove. Burris scored nine of her season-high 22 points in the final 2:12 by hitting nine straight free throws, backup guard Jasmine Hale had a career-high 12 points off the bench and Madi Mace contributed nine points and four rebounds in her first collegiate start.
Most important to the task at hand, the group didn’t buckle when the game got tight and Hooks was left on the sideline.
“They were able to control the ball,” Hooks said. “They were able to step up and make sure we won the game.”
Kent State missed its final 10 shots from the field, and didn’t score at all inside the final 2:43. Burris cut off driving lanes, blocked a key shot, snatched decisive rebounds, and feasted at the foul line as part of the 11-0 run.
Hale played the point in Hooks’ absence and made sure the turnovers dried up. Mace was physical in the paint. Guard Kaylee Bambule ferreted out two defensive rebounds amongst bigger players.
Ohio head coach Bob Boldon couldn’t remember the last time his team won without either Hooks or Johnson available to drive late-game action. Asked about a championship mentality, the coach said it manifests itself in a lot of ways that the Bobcats showed in the final minutes.
Not with contested jumpers, but in the gritty, non-highlight plays that can often determine games.
“We’re starting to win because we’re playing together as a team,” Boldon said. “That’s really exciting. We’re beginning to become better than the sum of our parts. To see that growth is very exciting.”
Kent State had a five-game winning streak halted, and lost for the first time in the last three matchups with Ohio. Katie Shumate led the way with 23 points, while Hannah Young added 11 and Casey Santoro chipped in 10 – including eight in the fourth-quarter sure. Nila Blackford finished with nine points and nine boards.
Hooks exploded for 14 second-quarter points as Ohio took a 16-16 tie after 10 minutes and turned it into a 40-28 lead by halftime.
The Flashes never got closer than six points in the third quarter, and OU led 61-52 entering the fourth. The Bobcats led by 14 after a Bambule 3-pointer before the Flashes made their run, and Hooks was the victim of two quick 50/50 calls.
But Ohio had enough to finish, even without Johnson, who Boldon called a game-by-game decision with her injured knee.
That’s because Ohio still had Burris, and her steady, all-around play was the ballast the Bobcats needed at that point to help steady the ship.
“Gabby was fantastic down the stretch,” Boldon added. “She was great at rebounding, guarding and making free throws.”
Ohio won the rebounding battle 37-33, and claimed honors in that department for a second straight game. It was another sign of the development the undersized Bobcats have shown of late, according to Boldon.
“We’ve outrebounded the opponent in the last two games,” he said. “That hasn’t happened in two years.”
Ohio travels to face second-place Bowling Green (13-4, 9-3 MAC) on Saturday in a 12 p.m. start at the Stroh Center. It is the first of two scheduled meetings. The Falcons dropped a 79-78 loss at Northern Illinois on Wednesday night.