With 97 seconds remaining in Wednesday night’s game, Ohio point guard Cece Hooks stood at the free throw line with all the eyes — and the pressure — in The Convo on her.
She pulled up for her first attempt. A miss. Just like the previous two free-throw attempts.
She went through her cadence again: three bounces on the hardwood, then a little spin of the ball in her left hand. She pulled up, and as the ball released from her hand, everyone in the arena knew what the outcome of the shot would be.
A make. Nothing but net.
Hooks’ made free throw was her 29th point, a career high for the reigning Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year. Hooks finished with 31 points, seven rebounds, five assists and five steals in Ohio’s 80-73 win over Big Ten foe Purdue.
Some would say Hooks started to choke when the opportunity to break her career high was in front of her. After easily tying her record of 28, it took four free-throw attempts to get to 29 — but Hooks put the undefeated Bobcats (7-0) on her back in the biggest game of the year, and she didn’t plan on it.
“I did not know that at all,” Hooks said after being asked if she knew she was going to step up. “I just went out there and played.”
It was easy for Hooks to just play, but that wasn’t the case early for the Bobcats.
Purdue came into Wednesday night’s game with revenge on its mind. The Bobcats defeated the Boilermakers last season in West Lafayette, Indiana, and the bigger, more athletic Boilermakers seemed determined to bully the Bobcats off the court early.
In the first quarter, Purdue blocked six Ohio shots and showed that the Bobcats, who entered with one of the best offenses in the nation, would have trouble getting to the rim. Purdue also made life hard for Ohio coach Bob Boldon when, five minutes into the game, his best 3-point shooter, Amani Burke, had to be taken out of the game because she was in foul trouble.
“Purdue is so good,” Boldon said. “Along with them being good comes a high level of athleticism. You wonder how it’s going to work out.”
After trailing by two entering the second quarter, things started to work out for the Bobcats.
Two 3-pointers from Dominique Doseck, who went 4-for-6 from 3-point range, and a couple steals by Hooks spearheaded a 13-1 run for Ohio. The Bobcats stole momentum away and, at one point, looked like they would dominate the Boilermakers like they had their previous six opponents.
At halftime, Ohio entered the locker room confidently up 41-26.
But even though it seemed easy for Ohio to get the lead, it’d be harder to keep it.
Purdue’s Ae’Rianna Harris and Tamara Farquhar, who combined for 25 points, repeatedly got to the foul line courtesy of Ohio’s Hooks, Doseck and Burke. With Purdue churning out little runs and three of Boldon’s best players in foul trouble, Ohio was doing everything it could to keep Purdue at bay.
Entering the fourth up by just eight, Ohio didn’t know if its biggest win would slip through its grasp.
That was until Hooks took over the game.
Hooks dominated on both ends of the court and went on a 6-0 run to put the Bobcats up 14. After Hooks sank her final free throw, it was official: Ohio beat a Big Ten school for the second year in a row.
“I think this means a lot of teams are going to come after us a lot harder,” Doseck said. “We can’t let that get into our head. We still have to head into practice and get work done.”