CLEVELAND— With 6:48 remaining in the third quarter, Cece Hooks trotted over to the bench after she received her fourth foul. At that moment, Ohio could have panicked. Hooks is one of the team’s best scorers and defenders. Her absence could have brought Ohio’s fall.
Instead, it made room for Erica Johnson’s rise.
Johnson stepped up in Hooks’ absence and led Ohio to an 84-75 win over Western Michigan in the Mid-American Conference Tournament Quarterfinal on Wednesday afternoon at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. Johnson did everything she could to ensure Ohio moved on; finishing the game with 28 points, 11 rebounds and five assists.
Alongside Johnson’s dominant game, Amani Burke scored 20 points and Hooks finished with 14.
Johnson knew coming in that Ohio would need her to be at her best. She had to be more than just a scorer. Johnson, a redshirt sophomore, had to be a leader.
“I just did everything my teammates needed me to do,” Johnson said.
She started off the game from behind-the-arch. Several times throughout the first half, Johnson would bring the ball up the court and lull her defender to sleep with a slow dribble before explosively stepping back and shooting a 3-pointer.
But once Hooks picked her her third foul midway through the second quarter, Johnson had to modify her game. Hooks’ game thrives on driving to the basket, which then opens things up for the rest of Ohio’s offense. Johnson couldn’t allow the Bobcats to be without that.
She started driving to the lane and finding open players such as Katie Barker and Gabby Burris for easy shots. With Johnson running the offense, Ohio entered the half with a 10-point lead.
Johnson caused the Broncos fits in the second half. With Hooks on the bench, it was up to her to maintain Ohio’s lead. Western Michigan coach Shane Clipfell had developed a game plan to neutralize Hooks, but he didn’t count on Johnson.
“We had a really specific defensive gameplan coming in and it involved a lot of Cece Hooks,” Clipfell said. “Unfortunately then Erica Johnson took on a different role and she’s an incredibly talented kid.”
Clipfell wasn’t the only coach impressed with Johnson. Coach Bob Boldon was mesmerized by the ways Johnson impacted the game.
“It was amazing,” Boldon said. “She was spectacular if that’s the right word to use. She shot over 50 percent from the 3-point line. That was incredible.
Johnson’s last— and most impressive— 3-pointer came with 31 seconds left in the game. The shot clock had two seconds on it and Johnson shot the ball off a pass from Burke. The basket not only put the game out of reach, but it also gave Johnson her 1,000th career point.
It was a sweet victory for Ohio. The Bobcats avenged a one-point loss to Western Michigan from the regular season and move one step closer to Saturday’s tournament finale. Ohio blew out Toledo in the only meeting back in February. The Golden Rockets, who knocked off No.1 seed Central Michigan, will look to even up the series.
It might be an advantage Ohio doesn’t have to play Central Michigan anymore. Johnson could care less, though.
“We have to attack this game with the same intensity,” Johnson said.
With the win, No. 4 seed Ohio (19-11, 11-7 MAC) advances to the MAC Tournament Semifinal on Friday at 11 a.m. and will face No. 9 seed Toledo.