With the game tied at 59 and Ohio feeling the pressure of a massive blown first-half lead, redshirt senior guard Taylor Agler fouled out. Dominique Doseck had already fouled out, too.
Somebody had to step into the ball-handling position and help the Bobcats overcome a Ball State rally in which it overcame a 25-point deficit.
Cierra Hooks was the ball handler who stepped up.
Hooks capitalized on an opportunity to be the best scorer on the floor, scoring 16 of her career-high 28 points in the fourth quarter, willing Ohio past Ball State 80-76 at The Convo.
“I knew that I had to (score in the fourth quarter),” Hooks said. “And I just talked to (Agler), our leader, and she just told me I had to fight.”
Hooks and fellow freshman Gabby Burris earned their first career starts for the Bobcats. Both scored career highs. Burris had 19 points.
But with the game teetering slipping away, Hooks was the freshman who found ways to score without familiar faces on the floor.
The game wasn’t supposed to be close; confidence wasn’t radiating from coach Bob Boldon throughout the week leading up to it. Amani Burke, one of Ohio’s usual starters, didn’t dress.
Then the first half happened, a first half in which Ohio (12-9, 6-4 Mid-American Conference) threw a sucker-punch out of nowhere. The Bobcats started the game on a 14-2 run. They were up by as many as 25 and led by 19 at the half.
“I’m thoroughly impressed with the intensity and the energy that we guarded with in the first half,” Boldon said. “Especially considering who we guarded. You saw in the second half how good they are.”
Ball State (18-4, 7-4 MAC) didn't go away, though. The Cardinals countered with a 29-15 third quarter and cut the Bobcat lead to just five. They outscored Ohio in the fourth quarter, too. After allowing Ball State to the game at 59, however, Ohio regained the lead with a 10-1 run, a run that sealed the game.
Two Hooks layups, an Alexis Stover 3-pointer, an Olivia Bower 3-pointer, a Burris free throw and then, of course, a Hooks layup.
From then on, it seemed as if with every Ball State attempt to carve into Ohio’s lead, Hooks found herself at the free-throw line. She scored 10 of her 16 in the fourth from the free throw line.
And as Hooks, fresh of her first start and career-high, left her postgame press conference, she was asked when she felt like she wasn’t a freshman anymore.