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Ohio's CeCe Hooks (#1) beats Buffalo's defense in her run to the basket during the home game on Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020 in Athens, Ohio.

Women's Basketball: Ohio falls to Central Michigan in MAC tournament semifinals

CeCe Hooks took the ball and raced into the paint. When she got there, she was met by a Central Michigan’s Jahari Smith. As she put the ball up, the whistle blew. 


Hooks knew what the whistle meant. The senior fouled out with 8.1 seconds left in regulation in Ohio’s thrilling 100-92 Mid-American Conference Tournament semifinal overtime loss to Central Michigan on Friday in Cleveland.

She put her jersey over her face as she walked to the bench potentially for the final time. As the game went on in a timeout, Hooks was comforted by coaches and players with pats on the back. She finished the game with 23 points, seven rebounds and five assists. 

The Bobcats weren’t able to get anything going in the overtime period without Hooks, the MAC Player of the Year. Ohio didn’t score in the extra five minutes until there was only a minute left in the game. By then, it was too late.

“At that point, playing a team that’s as good as them, you’re out of good strategies,” Ohio head coach Bob Boldon said. “You’re just hoping that they’re going to miss a free throw, and they didn’t. We’ve certainly played this game before, it feels like.”

In most seasons, the semifinal loss would undoubtedly spell the end of Hooks’ collegiate career. This year, however, didn’t take a year of eligibility from anyone due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If the senior wants to come back, she can return for a fifth season.

“She’s got about two weeks to decide if she’s going to enter the (WNBA) draft,” Boldon said. “We’ve talked about that a little bit. We need to dive into it a little bit more. The last time we talked, we wanted to see how the MAC Tournament went and kind of see where she is.”

If Hooks decides not to return, her impact on her teammates, coaches and the program has been undeniable. 

As it stands, Hooks is the second-leading scorer in Ohio history, leads the program in steals all-time and has the single-game scoring record. Her name is written all across just about every statistic in the record book. She also became the second player in program history to have a triple-double, is a three-time MAC Defensive Player of the Year and won MAC Player of the Year this season.

Her presence goes beyond basketball, though.

“She gives it her all,” longtime teammate Erica Johnson said. “Great person on and off the court. One of my best friends. I met her in the eighth grade, and we’ve been going since. So, I mean she’s just a great person to be around, great player, brings a lot of energy. I just love playing with her.”

Her coach will have a lot to miss from her on and off the court as well.

“There’s a laundry list,” Boldon said. “I think (I will miss most) probably her smile, her joy of playing the game … From a coaching standpoint, probably her ability to change the game in a heartbeat.”

If Hooks decides to come back, her disruptive defensive play as well as her explosiveness around the basket will set the Bobcats up for a very good season.

The Bobcats saw the emergence of a few key role players this year. Freshman Madi Mace grew immensely through the course of the season. Her full potential shined in the late stages of regulation when she scored five points to tie the game up and locked down the Chippewas’ best player when she tried to put up a game-winning shot.

“With having the kids we had out, one of the benefits was that some of the kids on our bench got to play a lot more than maybe they would have in a normal season,” Boldon said. “(Mace) kind of stepped in and really blossomed for us, so I think the future for her is very exciting.”

Whether or not Hooks decides to come back to Athens for another season is ultimately up to her. Her legacy and prowess at Ohio should someday land her jersey in the rafters. With all of those accolades, there is only one thing missing from her trophy case: a MAC Championship.


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