CeCe Hooks was leading Ohio in just about every category. Without co-star Erica Johnson in the game, Hooks was having another incredible performance with 29 points, nine assists, six rebounds and seven steals halfway through the third quarter.
As the Bobcats took a healthy lead into the final stretch of the game, it looked as if they would cruise to the end with a big win over Mid-American Conference-leading Kent State.
Within seconds, everything changed.
Hooks was called for two offensive fouls in just 17 seconds -- the second of which was her fifth and final foul that sent her out of the game. Suddenly, Ohio only had a four-point lead and its top two scorers out of the game. All Hooks could do was watch.
Ohio’s supporting cast stepped up in its 85-70 win over Kent State on Wednesday night in The Convo.
The Bobcats shut down the Golden Flashes’ offense in the last two minutes of the game and went on an 11-0 run to finish. Senior forward Gabby Burris led the team by making eight free throws in a row, nine total.
Burris, who scored a season-high 22 points, said that making those shots was all about having a strong mind.
“My preparation is more mental; it’s a mental game,” Burris said. “If you get up there and you tell yourself ‘you’re making it, this one’s in, I’m here for a reason,’ that’s my practice, it’s all in my head.”
The mental toughness of the senior radiated through the whole team as the Bobcats (10-5, 8-4 MAC) held off Kent State (5-3, 4-1 MAC). The win was one of the first in recent memory that Ohio played without its top two scorers in the final stretch.
To head coach Bob Boldon, it was a sign that the team has started playing together and progressing immensely.
“When have we won when (Hooks and Johnson) haven’t been just awesome,” Boldon said. “We’ve always won because we have better players. We’re starting to win because we’re playing together as a team, and that’s really exciting.”
Seeing the Bobcats start to play a team game is dangerous for the rest of the conference. Especially when they are playing defense as well as they have in the last four games.
Ohio has allowed 80 or more points in seven games this season. In the last four games, though, the most an opponent has scored is 70.
The Bobcats held Kent State scoreless in the last two and a half minutes of the game, even without the two-time reigning MAC Defensive Player of the Year, Hooks. Kent State’s perennial top scorer, Nila Blackford, was held to just nine points by Burris and the rest of the team.
Riddled with injuries, Ohio had an extremely short bench. This led to younger players like Jasmine Hale, Madi Mace and Abby Garnett playing more key minutes.
Hooks was happy to see some of those players get in the game more and to see them succeed after she fouled out.
“I was glad that they were able to keep composure in the game with me and Erica out of the game,” Hooks said. “They were able to control the ball and win the game for us. It was really exciting for players to play that don’t normally get any time.”
Mace, who got her first start as a freshman, scored nine points and Hale scored a career-high 12 points. Caitlyn Kroll led the team with 10 rebounds.
Wednesday’s win is a huge confidence booster for the Bobcats’ role players as they continue a grueling stretch of the season. Ohio will go to Bowling Green on Saturday and stay on the road for a grudge match against Ball State on Feb. 10.