TOLEDO — If there was any doubt that Ohio belonged in the higher echelons of the Mid-American Conference, that doubt were was erased Wednesday night after it marched into Savage Arena in Toledo and took down the conference’s No. 1 team 79-72.
After starting conference play with a middling 2-2 record, the Bobcats have won their last three games and moved up to second place in the conference with Wednesday’s win. They also handed Toledo its first loss to a conference opponent this season.
Ohio notched its third win in five days, and its second in a row over a team in the top half of the MAC standings. It had to bite and claw to clamber ahead of Toledo, but Ohio is used to fighting for its wins.
Cece Hooks was excellent once again for Ohio on Wednesday. She scored 30 points against Toledo, tying her season high with a stellar fourth-quarter performance.
Although Hooks is the engine of Ohio’s offense, her fourth quarter performance may have been her best yet. She made layup after layup as hopeless Toledo defenders tried in vain to stop the MAC’s all-time leading scorer. She finished with either hand on either side of the rim, and she willed Ohio to another monumental win.
Though Hooks wasn’t the only one running through the Rockets in the fourth quarter. Erica Johnson scored nine of her 17 total points in the fourth quarter, including a pair of layups that gave the Bobcats the lead. Johnson put the game on ice for the Bobcats after sinking three free throws in the final 20 seconds to extend the lead to seven points.
“She’s a gamer,” Ohio coach Bob Boldon said of Johnson.
Johnson struggled early in Wednesday’s game, but when the fourth quarter rolled around, she and Hooks unloaded on Toledo. The dynamic duo of Hooks and Johnson is what makes Ohio dangerous.
Before its week began, Ohio sat at fifth in the MAC standings and was staring down games against Toledo and Buffalo, the top two teams in the conference. To add salt to the wound, it had to face Toledo on the road.
After Wednesday, however, the Bobcats have shaken up their season. They’re riding a three-game win streak and are within striking distance of Toledo, who’s still first place in the standings. The Bobcats’ situation this season has shifted as they dealt with inconsistency in both their play and schedule, but their goal has been the same since day one.
“We’re here to win the MAC,” forward Gabby Burris said. “And that’s what we’re showing right now.”
Ohio has not won the MAC tournament since 2015, during Boldon’s second season at the helm. While breaking that dry spell seemed like wishful thinking a few weeks ago, Ohio is in a stronger position than ever.
The Bobcats have already knocked off two of the MAC’s top teams, with a chance to take down a third on Saturday. They have overcome plenty of adversity, both within games and over the course of their season. But they have one of the best duos in the MAC on their side and are quickly picking up steam.
Ohio hasn’t won a MAC Tournament in almost seven years. If it continues to look like it did against Toledo, that might change at the end of the season.