With an ailing leg and the worst shooting half of her career already in the book, Erica Johnson remained right where she wanted to be and — as it turned out — had the Cardinals right where she wanted them.
Johnson scorched the nets for 19 second-half points, including 14 in a scintillating third quarter, as the Ohio University women’s basketball team held off Ball State 61-59 Thursday night at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland in the 2021 MAC Tournament quarterfinals.
The Bobcats (14-7) advanced in large part to the singular talents of their three career 1,000-point scorers. MAC Player of the Year Cece Hooks notched her third straight double-double with 21 points, 11 rebounds and four steals, while senior forward Gabby Burris added 15 points.
But it was Johnson, who had appeared in all of one game for a total of 21 minutes since Jan. 30 before Thursday, who turned the tide in the third quarter. She had a goose egg (0 points), on 0-for-6 shooting in the first half, and Ohio trailed the Cardinals (14-11) 30-23 early in the second half.
“It was rough,” Johnson said. “But I wanted to be out there and in the fight.”
Ohio landed a game-turning 19-5 run. Burris started it with a pair of 3-pointers. Johnson followed with 11 consecutive Ohio points, including a pair of wicked step-back 3-pointers and a leaning, off-balance bank shot.
“My teammates and coaches had confidence in me and I never lost confidence in myself,” Johnson said. “Seeing that first one go was really good. I knew that I was where I needed to be mentally. Getting in the flow helped.”
Ohio led 42-35 after the onslaught, and never trailed again. Johnson had 14 points in the quarter, and the Bobcats had 26 total in the frame after scoring 23 in the first half.
“That is just what Erica does, that’s just who she is,” Ohio head coach Bob Boldon said. “She bailed us out.”
In four previous MAC Tournament games in Cleveland, Johnson averaged of 17 points and 11 rebounds. She earned Third Team All-MAC honors on Monday, an honor she called a “blessing” on Thursday, and is regarded as one of the best ‘tough’ shot makers in the league.
Ball State coach Brady Sallee knew all that going in, and saw it unfold in a momentum-changing third quarter. Was it surprising? No.
“I’m no dummy. We were prepared for her. She hit some shots…a couple stepbacks that were stupid,” Sallee said. “That’s the difference between a great one and a good one. The great ones don’t go away.”
Neither did the Cardinals. Powered by center Oshlynn Brown’s monster 12-point, 22-rebound night and the uncanny shooting of Thelma Dis Agustsdottir (21 points on 7-of-11 3-point shooting), Ball State survived the third-quarter barrage and never gave up the chase.
BSU got to within 56-55 with 4:57 left on a corner 3 from Agustsdottir, but never tied it. Hooks scored on a one-player fast-break with 1:11 remaining to make it 61-56, but the Cardinals pulled with 61-59 with 53.2 seconds left on another Agustsdottir triple.
Ball State had a chance to tie or take the lead, but Sydney Freeman’s driving reverse attempt with 17 seconds left was deflected by Johnson and Hooks. Ball State, which had not fouled in the quarter to that point, was unable to get the ball back or foul enough in the closing seconds to send OU to the foul line.
Ohio won despite shooting just 31.4 percent overall and enduring a truly awful first half in terms of shooting. Hooks kept OU in contention with 16 first-half points, but the rest of the roster was a combined 3-of-22 from the field in the first 20 minutes.
The game was a grind, a test from start to finish, and just what Johnson needed, she said.
“This game really tested us mentally,” she said. “We needed a game like this ahead of Friday.”
Ohio advances with the win, and will face No. 2 Central Michigan (16-8) in the semifinals at approximately 12:30 p.m. on Friday. The Bobcats haven’t won the MAC tournament title since 2015, but lost in the championship game in 2019 before having the event wiped out last March despite earning a spot in the semifinals.
“We were rocking, really rolling (last year),” Johnson said. “It’s in our hands now. We just go to get it done.”
2021 MAC Women’s Basketball Tournament
Wednesday, March 10 – Quarterfinals
- Game 1: No. 1 Bowling Green 63, No. 8 Eastern Michigan 47
- Game 2: No. 4 Buffalo 73, No. 5 Kent State 66
- Game 3: No. 2 Central Michigan 83, No. 7 Northern Illinois 69
- Game 4: No. 3 Ohio 61, No. 6 Ball State 59
Friday, March 12 – Semifinals
- Game 5: No. 1 Bowling Green (19-5) vs. No. 4 Buffalo (15-8), 10 a.m. (ESPN+)
- Game 6: No. 2 Central Michigan (16-8) vs. No. 3 Ohio (14-7), approximately 12:30 p.m. (ESPN+)
Saturday, March 13 – MAC Championship
- Game 7: Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner, 11 a.m. (CBS Sports Network)