For 10 days, Ohio managed to forget about how it missed a Mid-American Conference Championship and NCAA Tournament berth and failed to capitalize on a season full of promise.
The Bobcats won three WNIT games in that span, and the disappointment they felt before the postseason was eroded with the hopes of securing a WNIT Championship. No team in program history had won it before, and Ohio needed three more wins to end its season on a historic note.
Instead, the Bobcats finished their season Saturday inside Welsh-Ryan Arena, disappointed again and wondering how different their season could have been had the results of one game, a 61-58 loss to Northwestern, ended differently.
“We're disappointed right now, and obviously we'll be disappointed for a few days,“ coach Bob Boldon said in an athletic department release, “but at some point, tomorrow the sun will rise and life will go on and we'll have the chance to reflect.”
The Bobcats may not want to reflect on the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game, though. Ohio had a 49-41 lead, its largest lead of the game, before the final 10 minutes, and all it needed was it defense to step up and its offense to do just enough to become one of four teams left in the WNIT.
But the Wildcats didn’t give them the chance. Ohio’s shot just 1-for-6 from the field to open the quarter, and it allowed to Northwestern to build a 7-1 scoring run and put the Bobcats’ hopes of advancing on hold.
Northwestern stole the lead with one minute left after Veronica Burton made two free throws that sent the 1,031 fans inside Welsh-Ryan Arena into a frenzy. Ohio felt the pressure, and it needed to find a way to win without Cece Hooks, who left the game after she committed her fifth foul on Burton.
Without Hooks, the Bobcats couldn’t draw up a play like the one they ran to beat Middle Tennessee on March 24 when Hooks made a buzzer-beating layup to win. Ohio was without its most aggressive scorer, and it needed someone else on its versatile offense to save it.
Enter Erica Johnson.
The redshirt freshman proved she can play under pressure in the NCAA Tournament, but she couldn’t do enough to save the Bobcats on Saturday. Johnson was 1-for-3 in the final minute, and her 3-pointer that missed as time expired was the last shot Ohio took in what was a historical season with a disappointing end.
“It wasn't a lack of effort, that's for sure,“ Boldon said. “We played a team that was a little bit better than us tonight. Not a lot better, but a little bit better.”
With 30 wins, the Bobcats finished as the winningest team in the history of Ohio basketball — men’s or women’s. Their coach accrued the most career wins in Ohio women’s basketball history, and they welcomed two players — Amani Burke and Hooks — into the 1,000 point club. They own the longest winning streak (12 games) in program history and went farther than any Ohio team has gone in the WNIT.
Ohio may not have ended its season where it hoped, but it shouldn’t let one loss to a Power 5 school erase its greatness.
The Bobcats had a successful year. They just didn’t have a successful ending.