EVANSTON, Ill. — This time the Bobcats couldn’t find the right answer when it mattered most.
Northwestern overcame an eight-point deficit in the fourth quarter, and stopped Ohio 61-58 in the quarterfinals of the 2019 WNIT on Saturday night inside Welsh-Ryan Arena.
The Wildcats (20-14) advance to the national semifinals of the WNIT, and will face either Georgetown or James Madison — those two teams played on Sunday — in the tournament’s final four.
For Ohio (30-6), the longest, winningest season in program history is over.
“It was a great game,” said Ohio head coach Bob Boldon in a postgame radio interview. “We just came up on the wrong side of it.”
Guard Lindsey Pulliam had a game-high 22 points to lead Northwestern, as she converted 12 of 15 shots at the foul line. Guard Veronica Burton added 15 points and six assists. Senior center Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah had nine points and a game-high 16 rebounds as she used her 6-4 frame to control the middle.
Redshirt freshman Erica Johnson had 17 points to lead Ohio. Sophomore guard Cece Hooks added 15 points, four assists and four steals, and junior guard Amani Burke chipped in 14 points. Sophomore forward Gabby Burris had nine points and six rebounds.
It was the third time in three games that Northwestern rallied in the second half to pull off a win. The Wildcats trailed 49-41 at the start of the fourth, and trailed 56-52 with three minutes to go.
But Ohio couldn’t close the game out. The Bobcats lost starting guards Burke (with 1:58 remaining) and Hooks (1:11 left) to foul outs, and had a string of six empty offensive possessions at the wrong time.
Northwestern won despite hitting just two field goals in the final eight minutes. One of those was Jordan Hamilton’s banked-in 3-pointer with 3:55 left that pulled the Wildcats to within 56-52.
Northwestern relied in a big advantage at the foul line throughout, and late, to win. The Wildcats out scored Ohio by 12 points at the foul line, and shot 29 free throws. Pulliam nearly had as many free throws herself (15) as Ohio did as a team (16).
Ohio led 56-53 when Burke was called for her fifth foul — an offensive foul on an inbounds play. On the ensuing possession, Hamilton hit a baseline jumper to pull Northwestern to within 56-55 with 1:38 left.
After an Ohio turnover, Hooks got her fifth going for a loose ball. Burton hit two free throws as a result, and Northwestern led 57-56 with 1:11 remaining.
Johnson missed a running bank shot, then was called for a turnover when she was bumped along the baseline. Pulliam made two free throws with 8.6 seconds left to make it 59-56.
After Johnson’s layup with five seconds left, Pulliam added two more free throws for the 61-58 score.
Ohio’s last possession ended with Johnson’s 3-pointer that rimmed out with two seconds left.
“We had a couple good looks there for Erica at the end, really two good looks,” Boldon said. “It didn’t go our way.”
Northwestern led early, and had five ties along the way, before grabbing the lead back with 1:11 left. But it was Ohio which held the lead in a close, tense game throughout.
Down 6-4 early, Ohio ripped off a 10-8 run to grab a six-point lead. Johnson’s driving one-hander at the buzzer gave the Bobcats a 16-14 lead at the end of the first.
The Bobcats twice led by five points in the second quarter, but failed to pull away and settled for a 33-31 halftime lead.
Ohio gained its biggest separation at the end of the third quarter. The Bobcats held Northwestern scoreless over the final 4:55 of the quarter — a string of 11 straight possessions — and took a 49-41 lead after Burke’s 3-pointer from the right wing late in the quarter.
Northwestern opened the fourth with a 7-1 burst, but Ohio settled momentarily with Johnson’s 3-point play and a 54-48 lead with six minutes to go.
Ohio played the game on just one day’s rest, having won in the third round at home on Thursday night. The Bobcats missed five free throws, gave up 12 offensive rebounds and had 14 turnovers.
All of those loomed large at the end, in a one-possession game with two starters on the bench.
“The margin for error in these kinds of games is pretty slim,” Boldon said.
Ohio may well be the preseason favorite to win the Mid-American Conference next season. The Bobcats lose three seniors in starting guard Dominique Doseck, and bench forwards Olivia Bower and Kendall Jessing.
But Ohio returns four starters, two 1,000-point scorers and the rest of a roster that just finished the best season in program history.
That mix includes Hooks (First Team All-MAC), Johnson (MAC Freshman of the Year) and Burke (who led the MAC in 3-point shooting percentage).
“It just hurts right now,” Boldon said. “We’ll be disappointed for a couple days.
“But the program’s in good shape,” he added. “We’re excited to see what we can do moving forward.”
Northwestern 61, Ohio 58
Ohio 16 17 16 9 — 58
Northwestern 14 17 10 20 — 61
OHIO 58 (30-6)
Cece Hooks 5 5-7 15, Amani Burke 4 3-4 14, Erica Johnson 7 1-1 17, Dominique Doseck 0 0-0 0, Gabby Burris 3 2-4 9, Olivia Bower 0 0-0 0, Kaylee Bambule 1 0-0 3, Deesh Beck 0 0-0 0, Kendall Jessing 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 20 11-16 58; 3-point goals — 7-23 (Burke 3-9, Johnson 2-6, Burris 1-1, Bambule 1-1, Hooks 0-3, Doseck 0-3).
NORTHWESTERN 61 (20-14)
Lindsey Pulliam 5 12-15 22, Veronica Burton 3 6-8 15, Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah 4 1-2 9, Jordan Hamilton 3 2-2 9, Abi Scheid 1 2-2 4, Sydney Wood 0 0-0 0, Bryana Hopkins 1 0-0 2, Abbie Wolf 0 0-0 0, Byrdy Galernik 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 17 23-29 61; 3-point goals — 4-12 (Burton 3-4, Hamilton 1-1, Pulliam 0-3, Scheid 0-4).
TEAM STATISTICS/INDIVIDUAL LEADERS
Field goals — Ohio 20-52 (.385), 3-point goals 7-23 (.304); Northwestern 17-45 (.378), 3-point goals 4-12 (.333); Free throws — Ohio 11-16 (.688), Northwestern 23-29 (.793); Rebounds — Ohio 26/7 offensive (Burris 6), Northwestern 41/12 offensive (Kunaiyi-Akpanah 16); Assists — Ohio 16 (Hooks 4), Northwestern 14 (Burton 6); Steals — Ohio 13 (Hooks/Johnson/Burris 4), Northwestern 6 (Burton 3); Blocks — Ohio 1, Northwestern 4; Turnovers — Ohio 14, Northwestern 21; Personal fouls — Ohio 23, Northwestern 15; Attendance — 1,031; Technical fouls — None.