For Ohio, shocking the world has become a yearly tradition.
The Bobcats defeated No. 22 Notre Dame 86-85 in The Convo and securing the program’s second ever win over a ranked top 25 opponent. Ohio’s first win over a ranked opponent came on Feb. 24 2007. The Bobcats snapped No.18 Bowling Green’s 39-game MAC winning streak 70-67. The win against Notre Dame marks the sixth-straight season the Bobcats have defeated a Power Five opponent under coach Bob Boldon.
“This group is competitive,” Boldon said. “These are the things that they look forward to, and I think they never seemed to be overwhelmed by the moment.”
There were many opportunities for Ohio to be flustered against the Fighting Irish. With 5:29 remaining in the third quarter, redshirt junior and team leading scorer Erica Johnson went to the bench with her fourth foul.
Notre Dame used the opportunity to mount a run and take a slim three-point lead into the fourth. Ohio had led for most of the day to that point. With one quarter to go, the Bobcats had two choices: fight or fly.
“I kept telling them ‘it’s winning time,’” Johnson said. “I had to let them know it was our time.”
With Johnson on the bench for most of the third quarter, senior point guard CeCe Hooks had to carry most of the load, leading the Bobcats with 32 points and eight rebounds on 10-23 shooting (10-14 FT). Johnson, who played the entire fourth quarter with one foul, finished with 24 points, and Gabby Burris added a clutch 11 points.
It was an overall team effort, though, as Ohio got 17 critical points from its bench in the form of Peyton Guice (six points, three rebounds), Kaylee Bambule (three points), Madi Mace (six points) and Jasmine Hale ( two points, two steals).
“I think those kids who come off the bench deserve a lot of credit,” Boldon said. “It’s hard because you’re sitting there, and you go in for a minute, and you come out, then go in for another minute and come out. And I thought our bench play was fantastic.”
After starting Wednesday’s game flat, the Bobcats came out Friday and took command of the moments after the tip. Hooks found success driving to the basket, and Johnson found her rhythm early behind the arch.
It wasn’t surprising to see Ohio’s star duo play well. It was the emergence of bench players Guice, Hale and Mace that put the Irish off guard.
Guice showed no fear in the paint against the defenders much bigger, Hale played great team defense and redshirt freshman Mace handled a game’s worth of physicality during the 12 minutes she played. Ohio’s team play led to a 41-30 lead at the half.
“We were so pumped up,” Hooks said. “We wanted to win, and we gave it our all.”
It would take all of Ohio’s talent and grit to survive Notre Dame’s surge in the third quarter. After being held in check for most of the first half, Notre Dame’s Dara Mabrey exploded in the second half and led all scorers with 34 points.
The Irish’s size also began to take a toll on Ohio. Strong guards Anaya Peoples and Destinee Walker used their quickness and physicality to put Johnson and Bobcats starting forward Edecia Beck into foul trouble. With Ohio’s lineup limited, Notre Dame outscored Ohio in the third quarter 34-21.
“When I got the fourth foul, I was kind of mad at myself for putting myself in that position,” Johnson said. “I had to figure out a way to still stay engaged and be there for my teammates.”
Johnson’s presence was immediately felt when she re-entered the game. Johnson scored seven points in the final stanza, but it was her childhood friend Hooks that sank the game-clinching free throws.
“She (Hooks) just gets into that grind, into that mode where we can lean on her,” Johnson said.
As the clock hit triple zeros, Ohio cheered for just a brief moment before quickly exiting to the locker room. There were no long moments of embrace, like last year when the Bobcats defeated Ohio State on the road.
“We don’t get seven or eight chances to play a top 25,” Boldon said. “So you have to seize that moment, and I’m just so proud of them.”
Ohio has a week of rest before traveling to Kent State on Saturday to open up MAC play. In the team’s previous meeting, Kent State defeated the Bobcats 81-77, but Ohio is up for the challenge. After Friday’s win, Hooks believes the Bobcats deserve their respect on the national stage and maybe even a spot in the top 25.
“We might be little, but we’re scrappy,” Hooks said.
Correction appended: A previous version of this article stated Ohio’s win over Notre Dame was its first win over a ranked top 25 opponent. Its first win over a ranked opponent came in 2007 against Bowling Green. The article has been updated to reflect the most accurate information.