OXFORD — Katie Barker had Saturday’s game circled on her calendar for some time.
Ohio’s redshirt junior, who missed basically the entirety of last season due to injuries, couldn’t wait to play rival Miami again. In her eyes, Ohio’s loss to the RedHawks in the 2018 Mid-American Conference quarterfinal was on her.
“My last game against Miami, I missed what I feel like could have been a potential game-winning 3-(pointer),” Barker said.
Barker more than made up for the past. Her 15 points on five 3-pointers Saturday were crucial in Ohio’s 84-70 win over Miami at Millett Hall.
The win was Ohio’s third-straight over Miami in the storied “Battle of the Bricks” rivalry, and it felt even sweeter coming on the RedHawks home floor.
“It feels good because it’s a rivalry,” Barker said. “We walked through town yesterday and people were saying stuff to us because we had OU stuff on.”
Miami’s fanbase was in full support prior to tipoff. The fans at Millett were rowdy for the 91st edition of the rivalry, but Ohio quickly took the crowd out of the game.
Ohio’s offense exploded in the first quarter. The Bobcats shot 55.6 percent from the field and were 5-for-9 from behind the arc. A few of those were courtesy of Barker, who felt like a big day was due.
“It’s been tough the last few games,” Barker said. “It felt like it was so hard to even get a touch, so it did feel good to finally knock some shots down and get that confidence back.”
Barker’s confidence was vital. With 5:38 still to go in the first quarter, Ohio was without one of its best players for the rest of the half. For the second game in a row, Cece Hooks had to go to the bench early because of foul trouble.
In Ohio’s Feb. 8 win over Kent State, the Bobcats struggled with their star point guard off the floor, but on Saturday the Bobcats thrived.
Redshirt sophomore Erica Johnson (23 points, nine assists, eight rebounds) was the jolt Ohio needed to spark a major run. Her ability to score off the catch, dribble and at the line made Miami over-commit and freed open the rest of her teammates.
“I know mine (points) will come,” Johnson said. “It makes me want to create for my teammates. For people like Katie (Barker) I draw so much attention but teams don’t really want to leave her.”
But Miami had to leave Barker. Johnson was lighting up Miami’s offense, but when she did find Barker, the Cary, Illinois, native was ready.
Barker was able to effectively use screens set for her to find space behind the arc. With the free space, Barker — a 36% 3-point shooter— and fellow sharpshooter Amani Burke (14 points) were able to cause problems and push Ohio’s lead into the double digits.
With the 19 point lead heading into the locker room, Ohio could’ve felt like the game was theirs, but the Bobcats have been coached better than to believe that.
“Last year we were up a lot and they came back,” Johnson said. “We haven’t done a good job this season of putting teams away. They always seem to come back so I was in the locker room telling everybody ‘let’s just stay locked in.”
Ohio’s business-like attitude was exactly what it needed in the third quarter. The Bobcats outscored the RedHawks 21-14 in the third. Alongside Johnson, players like Gabby Burris (13 points) and Hooks (13 points) emerged as Barker and Burke started to draw more attention from Miami’s defense.
All in all, it was a successful road trip. Ohio still has lessons to learn from a fourth-quarter in which it was outscored 27-15, but the 14-point win was still the ideal way to end the light workweek.
“To come off the (midweek) bye week and get another win was really important,” Barker said.
There will be no more breaks for Ohio moving forward. Next week, Ohio hosts Toledo on Wednesday before traveling to Akron on Saturday. The Bobcats are in first place in the MAC East, and they have their eyes on a first-round bye in the MAC Tournament.