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Ohio guard Erica Johnson handles the ball against defensive pressure from Kent State’s Ali Poole during the Bobcats’ game against Kent State on Wednesday, Jan. 16.

Women's Basketball: Ohio proves it's the best team in the MAC in win over Central Michigan

The Mid-American Conference is now Ohio’s to lose.

The Bobcats issued that statement Saturday after a 78-75 road win against reigning MAC champion Central Michigan. It’s blunt, but it’s true. Ohio proved it with its biggest win of the season over the toughest opponent left on its schedule. If the season ended today, the Bobcats would have the No. 1 seed in the MAC Tournament, and there’s no reason why they should lose it with seven games left to play.

The Chippewas have been the conference’s staple team since they advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament a year ago.

Now, with their convincing win in one of the toughest road environments in the MAC, the Bobcats are in the driver’s seat to claim that label.

“I know for a fact that we are the best team in the MAC,” Erica Johnson said. “It's just a matter of time of showing everyone else."

But the Bobcats may have already shown everyone else they’re already the best. Ohio fell to Central Michigan 88-70 on Jan. 9 at The Convo, and it looked like the only way the Bobcats could defeat the Chippewas was for Ohio to play its best game of the season.

It didn’t overwhelmingly play its best game of the season Saturday. Sure, its performance was certainly among its best — five players hit double figures in points and Central Michigan allowed its most points since Dec. 30 — but the Bobcats did not play their most complete game.

When Central Michigan opened the first five minutes of the fourth quarter with a 13-0 run to trim Ohio’s once 16-point lead into a 67-65 game, the Bobcats’ three quarters of work were nearly lost. It was no longer Ohio’s best game of the season, and now it needed to fend off a comeback from the most proven team in the MAC to win.

With over 2,000 fans shouting inside McGuirk Arena, the Bobcats never blinked. They responded with a small 9-3 scoring run of their own, and a pair of layups from Cece Hooks and a 3-pointer from Amani Burke silenced the crowd. That gave Ohio enough cushion to win.

The clutch sequence was the exact opposite of what happened in Ohio’s home loss to Miami 10 days earlier when the Bobcats countered the RedHawks’ late-game comeback with a baffling three-point fourth quarter. Ohio lost 67-61 and looked like it regressed in talent compared to the rest of the MAC.

The Bobcats avenged all that Saturday. Ohio proved it can still beat the best teams in the MAC without a dominant, full 40-minute performance, and that’s a great sign for a team with high hopes of winning the conference tournament.

“It wasn't like we played out of our minds to win,” coach Bob Boldon said. “We just played good solid basketball, and we played what kids are capable of doing. It was as loud as that place has been since I've been there. They were certainly rolling, and I thought that our kids deserve a lot of credit for settling down and making shots."

The Bobcats have maintained a humble approach to their remarkable season. Players know that one small losing streak can spring them backward in the standings, but their confidence is as high as its been all season. 

“If we play like that every game for the rest of the season,” Hooks said. “We can definitely win the MAC.”

No one has been more humble than Boldon, who has usually given criticism to Ohio in even its most dominant wins. He acknowledged that there’s still seven games and plenty left to play for, but he also admitted he’s eager to see how high the Bobcats will go.

“I'm excited about where we are, but I also understand that these last three weeks can be a grind,” he said. “Everyone's going to try to beat us, which they should. We're going to try to beat them.”

The Bobcats knocked out the team most capable of adding a third scratch into their loss column, but they face a potential trap game against Toledo on Wednesday. The Rockets defeated the Chippewas on Jan. 23, and it’d be easy for the Bobcats to overlook their modest 6-4 conference record.

But Ohio has yet to overlook an opponent this season. 

It shouldn’t Wednesday if it wants to solidify its new label as the MAC’s best team.

@anthonyp_2

ap012215@ohio.edu

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