After 17 days off and three postponed games, Ohio finally opened its Mid-American Conference schedule on Saturday afternoon in The Convo with a thud. The Bobcats lost at home for the first time this season and are now 0-1 in conference play after a disappointing 71-68 loss to Northern Illinois.
There are several factors that could point to why Ohio lost, but the most glaring is the absence of Erica Johnson, who sat out due to COVID-19 protocols.
Johnson is averaging 20.3 points per game and — more importantly — 5.8 assists, and that playmaking was sorely missed on Saturday. The Bobcats struggled tremendously on offense without Johnson, and it showed both on the court and in the box score.
The Bobcats attempted 45 3-pointers, tying their season high, and while they ended up making 14 of them, they shot just 4-for-21 from beyond the arc in the first half. Many of these shots were semi-contested and early in the shot clock, leading to a lot of quick and empty possessions for the Bobcats.
Not only is Johnson Ohio’s best passer, she is also its best shooter, currently sitting at 36.6% from 3 on the year. The combination of missing both Johnson’s playmaking and shooting was devastating for the Bobcats, and Ohio coach Bob Boldon knows how important she is.
“Erica is one of the best players in the league,” Boldon said. “You’d like to have one of the best players in the league playing on your team whenever you can.”
Johnson certainly is one of the MAC’s best players, but fortunately for Ohio, it also has Cece Hooks. With Johnson sidelined, much of the responsibility to run Ohio’s offense fell on Hooks.
Hooks played all 40 minutes, tallying 24 points, nine rebounds, five assists and five steals, and she only turned the ball over once despite having it in her hands on almost every possession. However, there is one aspect of her game that cost the Bobcats. She was 4-for-10 from the free throw line.
So far this season, Hooks is shooting a career-low 57.7% from the line. Over the last three games, she has made just 9-of-28 attempts. One of Hooks’ most dangerous aspects is her ability to get inside and draw fouls, but if her recent free throw struggles continue, it takes away an important part of her game.
While Hooks struggled from the line, a much bigger issue for Ohio was that no one else even got there. Hooks was the only player to attempt a free throw for Ohio on Saturday, while Northern Illinois had six different players go to the line and knocked down 17-of-19 free throws.
This doesn’t mean, however, that the Bobcats weren’t getting the ball inside. They had plenty of layup opportunities. Those attempts simply weren’t going in, and the Bobcats weren’t drawing fouls.
Interior defense has been an issue for Ohio all year, but the inability to score inside has not been much of a factor this season. Saturday’s differences may be mostly due to the fact that Johnson missed the game, but whether or not her return fixes that particular issue, the Bobcats still have some things to figure out.
A MAC season that Ohio hopes will end in a conference title has begun with a loss to a Northern Illinois team that had lost six in a row coming into Saturday. The loss may have just been a blip, but Ohio’s issues also might be getting too significant to ignore.