Ohio women return to the floor, but drop road loss at Akron

Through the vagaries of the dog-eat-dog nature of the Mid-American Conference this season, the Ohio University women’s basketball team has been able to climb two spots in the league standings over the last 18 days – despite not playing once.

The Bobcats returned from an extended COVID-19 break on Tuesday, and saw all the ground gained during the layoff lost in a 71-67 setback to Akron at James A. Rhodes Arena.

Ohio guard Cece Hooks, seen here earlier this season, had 33 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in a 71-67 loss at Akron on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. Photo courtesy of Ohio Athletics/Midge Mazur

Ohio (12-7, 10-6 MAC) entered with a rag-tag rotation despite the break. The Bobcats, essentially, used just six players as 19-point scorer Erica Johnson (knee) remained out and every-game starter Kaitlyn Kroll (presumed COVID-19 issues) was not in attendance.

Junior guard Jasmine Hale made her first career start and the make-do lineup failed to gel instantly. It wasn’t unexpected, but it was disappointing, head coach Bob Boldon said. Ohio began the night as the No. 2 seed in the MAC, and Akron was 11th in the 12-team league.

“We try to win every game and we lost, so that’s disappointing,” Boldon said in a radio interview afterward. “We showed some toughness and resiliency. We try to be better on Saturday.”

It was the first missed game of the season for Kroll, but Johnson hasn’t played since Jan. 30. The Bobcats, as a team, haven’t played since Feb. 13 as COVID issues have forced three straight cancellations. .

Despite all those factors, league guard Cece Hooks gave Ohio a chance with another dynamite showing. The senior finished with game-highs 33 points, 10 rebounds and seven steals while logging a team-high 37 minutes.

Freshman Madi Mace added 11 points and seven rebounds, but also had six turnovers. Senior forward Gabby Burris had eight points and six boards, and Hale finished with nine points and five rebounds. Ohio won the rebounding battle 43-33, and gathered in 18 offensive caroms.

Still, with Hooks driving the action, Ohio wiped out a 15-point third-quarter deficit and took a 62-60 lead on a pair of Hooks’ free throws with 6:19 remaining. Hale’s runner down the lane gave OU a 65-64 lead with 3:25 left.

But Hooks left the game late with what appeared to be leg cramps. She spent six possessions on the sideline trying to get the knots worked out, and in that span the Zips (7-13, 4-13), took the lead for good with a 6-2 spurt capped by Jordyn Dawson’s jumper from the wing.

Ohio’s only points down the stretch came on a Mace driving layup with 1:17 to go. Hooks, who hit 11 of 28 shots, missed her final final four shots after returning to the floor for the final 50 seconds.

“(Hooks) was spectacular,” Boldon said.

Dawson filled up the stat sheet for Akron with 10 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. Layne Ferrell scored a team-high 25 points for the Zips, who have picked up home wins over the Bobcats in each of the last two seasons.

Ohio’s lack of court time and thin roster was evident throughout. The Bobcats hit just 4 of 20 from 3-point range, and shot just 35.4 percent overall. OU’s 17 turnovers led to 18 Akron points.

“We’re not that good of a defensive team to do that,” Boldon said.

Ohio looked rusty and unsettled particularly in the first half. Akron scored the game’s first nine points, and never trailed until Hooks scored five quick points in transition to give OU a 21-20 lead early in the second quarter. It turned out to be the ‘Cats last lead until the fourth as Akron closed the half on a 22-8 run for a 42-29 lead at the break.

Akron shot 60.7 percent (17 of 28) in the first half, while OU shot just 29.4 percent (10 of 34) with a 1-of-13 mark from 3.

Ohio wraps up the regular season on Saturday with a 1 p.m. start against Miami in the Convocation Center. It’s the last chance to find some rhythm before the MAC Tournament, which begins on Wednesday, March 10 in Cleveland.

The Bobcats have already secured a spot in that field, if not yet a seed. Boldon said his team has no choice but to try to get ready for the postseason no matter the state of the roster.

“Given what we’ve been through this year, you take it and you roll with it,” he said. “You just try to get a little bit better every time you play.”

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