Coach Bob Boldon has had reasons to be optimistic.
Even though Ohio has been inconsistent on offense, even though Ohio has struggled to shoot well, Boldon has had reasons to believe. A defense that’s ranked top two in the country for most of the season in turnover margin – that’s a reason to believe.
But another reason, perhaps the biggest one, is that the Bobcats have found resolve in the most adverse situations.
Ohio encountered situations late Wednesday against Northern Illinois in which it faltered. The Bobcats won 77-75 in The Convo against the Huskies, but like other games before, this game was filled with momentum swings in the waning minutes.
In the final 30 seconds, Katie Barker and Taylor Agler both missed two free throws. And when the game was tied at 75 with under 20 seconds left, Amani Burke passed the ball up the floor to freshman guard Cierra Hooks, but the Huskies stole the ball.
But the Bobcats have perhaps the best one-on-one defender the Mid-American Conference in Hooks. As Huskies guard Courtney Woods dribbled the ball up the floor, the game tied at 75, Hooks ripped the ball away from her at half-court. She raced up the floor for the game-winning layup, her second of the season.
“I wish obviously we would have made free throws, and it wasn’t an issue, but we didn’t,” Boldon said. “And I think that speaks to the character and the toughness of the kids on the floor.”
The Bobcats haven’t even finished January yet, and they’re as battle tested as any squad in the MAC. With this Huskies game close, the Bobcats have now been in four games decided in the final seconds.
And now another steal and game-winning layup from Hooks.
The Bobcats have been through it all, and this game was just another example of that.
“To have the mental wherewithal to put those plays behind you, and make the next play is just an incredibly valuable and incredibly mature way of doing work,” Boldon said. “I’m very proud of them for that.”
This is the Bobcats’ second straight win, and that’s something Ohio hasn’t done since the end of 2017, when it defeated North Carolina A&T and Toledo.
In a game where Barker had a career-high 24 points, Agler had a career-high 12 assists and the Bobcats shot 42.9 percent from the 3-point-line, a turning point could arise.
“We just can’t put two in a row together, so winning a close game at (Bowling Green), and then coming here winning another close game at home I think is really important,” Barker said.
Throughout the season, Boldon has been optimistic, particularly about the Bobcats’ shooting eventually improving. He knows Barker and junior guard Dominique Doseck, some of the team’s best shooters, have worked hard to reverse their shooting woes.
It’s the end of January, and the Bobcats only have one game left in the month. They’ll head to Oxford to play Miami on the road Saturday.
This game against Northern Illinois is just that – one game. But for Ohio, it could be the game that swings its season for the better.
“Hopefully it’s a sign of what’s to come,” Boldon said of the shooting. “But, I don’t know. It’s just one game. We’ll see if we can replicate it down the stretch.”