Ohio’s 70-64 win over Kent State on Wednesday followed a similar story to its recent loss against Northern Illinois.
The Bobcats ran cold on offense before igniting in the second half. Cece Hooks was their leading scorer, but she struggled from the free throw line. All of the Bobcats did. They ended the game 5-of-13 on free throws, which cut the game closer than it needed to be.
But while Wednesday’s story rang a similar bell to Ohio’s Mid-American Conference opener, the result was a happy ending instead of a heartbreak. Hooks and the Bobcats defeated the Golden Flashes for their first conference win of the season.
Hooks lead both teams with a season-high 26 points. The guard is now just 11 points away from becoming Ohio’s all-time leading scorer, but it wasn’t just her scoring that was the most important part of her game Wednesday night.
Hooks’ recent struggles from the free throw line persisted Wednesday. Over her past five games, Hooks has shot 36.7% on free throws, and Wednesday was more of the same. The guard went 3-of-10 on free throws against Kent State.
However, her 3-of-10 mark does not tell the whole story.
After missing seven of her first eight free throws, Hooks stepped to the line for her final two attempts with 11 seconds left. The Bobcats were up by five points, and they had all but secured the game.
Hooks sank both and left no doubt that Ohio had locked up its first win in the MAC. A Kent State 3-pointer scored a few seconds later was rendered meaningless, but Hooks’ final pair of free throws did more than ice a game that was already in hand. They were a representation of Ohio’s mental strength.
“They trust what they’re doing, and they trust each other,” Ohio coach Bob Boldon said. “The previous shot doesn’t affect the next shot, and you’ve got to be really mentally tough to truly believe that. It’s an easy thing to say in a press conference.”
Ohio needs to be mentally tough given the way it has shot the ball over its last few games. It needed to come back against Kent State the same way it did against Northern Illinois. Until its shots start falling, Ohio will continue to get into dogfights as MAC play progresses.
Boldon knows how long it has been since his team has had a good shooting night, but he also has faith in them to work through it.
“Maybe we haven’t shot it well in a long time,” Boldon said. “But these kids are good shooters, and they know they’re good shooters.”
Wednesday wasn’t a marquee win for the Bobcats, but it was a win they needed. It was a win that showed why the Bobcats were picked to place first in the MAC Preseason Coaches’ Poll. The fact they defeated a Kent State team with a better overall record, despite not playing in peak condition, speaks volumes about the Bobcats’ ceiling for success.
The Bobcats have definitive problems that they need to address, but they pulled out a win despite not playing their best. The win over Kent State wasn’t pretty, but it was a great start.