ATHENS — Ohio survived a thin bench, 27 personal fouls and the resulting lackluster defense to knock off visiting Kent State, 83-81, inside the Convocation Center on Wednesday night.
The Bobcats (14-1, 3-1 Mid-American Conference) knocked KSU (10-5, 3-1 MAC) from the ranks of the unbeaten in conference play, and in the process moved into a tie for both first place in the MAC East and the overall conference standings.
Ohio led by as many as 17 points in the first half, and still led by 13 with a minute left in the third quarter, but had to hold on as foul trouble wreaked havoc with a lineup limited to nine available players.
The Bobcats had four starters — and five of their top six players — all get at least four personal fouls. Ohio had two fouls outs — starting PG Cece Hooks and backup PG Erica Johnson.
Kent State had its fouls issues as well. The teams combined for 55 fouls during the course of the game, and 61 combined free throws.
The Flashes took advantage of the constantly interrupted flow. KSU ended the third quarter with a 6-0 run to cut the margin to seven, and pulled to within 63-61 with 6:44 left on Lindsey Thall’s bucket inside.
But Ohio scored the next seven points in a row, and maintained a nine-point lead until inside the final two minutes. The Bobcats hit nine of 10 free throws in the final 53 seconds to hold on. Kent State scored five points in the final 6.3 seconds, including a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Hooks led all scorers with 23 points on just 11 shots, as she drew 10 fouls during the course of the game. Johnson added 16 points, six rebounds and three assists off the bench. Amani Burke had 15 points, Dominique Doseck added 14, and Gabby Burris chipped in nine points and a team-high nine rebounds.
Alexa Golden had 22 points, seven rebounds and four steals to lead Kent State, including nine in the final 27.3 seconds. Megan Carter added 20 points.
Ohio never trailed after Olivia Bower converted a driving lay-up on the game’s first possession.
The Bobcats, fueled by seven straight points from Hooks, raced out to an 11-3 lead five minutes and a 9-1 run to end the quarter — capped by a Gabby Burris 3 from the right corner — gave Ohio a 25-12 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The Flashes, mired in 30.3 percent shooting in the first half, never drew closer than nine points in the second quarter. Even then, Hooks led a 10-2 run to make it 37-21 and Ohio kept the lead in that range the rest of the half.
The only down side for Ohio in the half was foul trouble. Hooks and Amani Burke combined for 22 first-half points, but both had three fouls. Three others — Burris, Bower and Deesh Beck — had two fouls apiece. Ohio had just nine available players because of the injury absence of redshirt freshman guard Kaylee Bambule.
Ohio, beset by foul trouble across the board, had seen a 17-point lead dip all the way to two — 63-61 — with just under seven minutes remaining.
But the Bobcats, who never trailed and led 39:48 of the 40 minutes, rallied with three big buckets in a four-possession span to regain control.
First, Hooks scored inside off a nifty pass from Johnson on a baseline cut. Burke then drilled a left-corner 3 off Hooks’ cross court pass, and Johnson finished the 7-0 run with a floating runner in the lane.
It wasn’t Ohio’s prettiest game, or half, but in a big spot the Bobcats came up with enough quality offensive possessions to hang on.
Ohio started fine, and led 25-12 after 10 minutes after holding KSU to just two made field goals in the first quarter.
Hooks, when not in foul trouble, dominated stretches of the game. She had four assists and three steals, and single-handedly put the Flashes in their own foul trouble. Hooks had five turnovers, but two were ‘iffy’ offensive fouls.
Ohio shot the ball enough from distance (8 of 21) and at the line (25 of 34) to maintain a lead despite the circumstances.
Johnson was good in spurts, again. Her ability to create off the dribble was a boon on several critical second-half possessions.
Ohio survived a brutal two-week stretch to open conference play in good shape. The Bobcats have faced three top 100 RPI teams in four conference games, and won two of them. Ohio has already played the three other teams (Buffalo, Central Michigan and Kent State) it is tied with for the conference lead.
The way Kent State plays offensively, and defensively for that matter, forces officials to either make a ton of calls or risk the ire of Todd Starkey on the KSU bench. Wednesday’s crew used their whistles.
Little contact fouls were called early, which set the stage for a non-stop parade to the foul line throughout. The 55 combined fouls and 61 combined free throws were the most in an Ohio game this season.
Ohio continues to turn the ball over in bunches, it’s now a three-game trend, and for the first time in conference play finished with a negative turnover ration (-5).
Another bad three-game trend for Ohio is its defense. In the last three games, the Bobcats have allowed 88, 75 and now 81 points. The most Ohio allowed in the non-conference season was 73, and only twice gave up more than 67 points.
“I mean nobody enjoyed watching that game. Right? I would have rather watched The Bachelor in Paradise.” Ohio head coach Bob Boldon on how the game played out.
“Make no mistake, our defense stinks. We’re the worst defensive team in the league, there’s no doubt about it in my mind. And we have the statistical numbers to back it up.” — Boldon on the team’s defense.
“Definitely feels like we survived it. We didn’t play to our full potential and still won.” — Ohio junior Amani Burke.
“I think it caused people to be timid, for sure.” — Ohio senior guard Dominique Doseck on how the whistles affected the team’s defense.
The Bobcats won’t have to travel this weekend and that should be a real benefit with a potentially disruptive winter storm in the forecast. Ohio will host Eastern Michigan (9-6, 2-2) in a 1 p.m. tip off in the Convo on Saturday.
The Eagles posted a 72-60 win at Akron on Wednesday.
Around the MAC
Miami knocked off Central Michigan, 70-67, in Mount Pleasant, with a three-point play in the final seconds to hand the Chippewas their first conference loss of the year.
NIU downed Bowling Green, 66-52, and Toledo won 80-57 at Western Michigan.
Buffalo held off Ball State, 77-65. Wednesday’s results leave Ohio, Buffalo, Kent State and CMU all tied atop the conference standings with 3-1 marks.
Ohio 83, Kent State 81
KENT STATE 83 (10-5, 3-1 MAC)
Lindsey Thall 3 2-2 8, Asiah Dingle 2 4-6 8, Ali Poole 4 0-0 9, Alexa Golden 6 7-9 22, Megan Carter 6 6-8 20, Hannah Young 1 0-0 2, Jessica Wallis 0 0-0 0, Sydney Brinlee 0 0-0 0, Merissa Barber-Smith 3 2-2 8, Mariah Modkins 2 0-0 4; TOTALS 27 21-27 81; 3-point goals — 6-19 (Golden 3-5, Carter 2-6, Poole 1-6, Thall 0-1, Modkins 0-1).
OHIO 70 (14-1, 3-1 MAC)
Olivia Bower 1 0-0 2, Gabby Burris 2 4-6 9, Cece Hooks 7 8-12 23, Amani Burke 5 3-4 15, Dominique Doseck 4 3-3 14, Kendall Jessing 0 0-0 0, Erica Johnson 5 5-6 16, Deesh Beck 1 2-3 4; TOTALS 25 25-34 83; 3-point goals — 8-21 (Doseck 3-5, Burke 2-7, Johnson 1-2, Hooks 1-3, Burris 1-4).
TEAM STATISTICS/INDIVIDUAL LEADERS
Field goals — KSU 27-66 (.409), 3-point goals 6-19 (.316); Ohio 25-54 (.463), 3-point goals 8-21 (.381); Free throws — KSU 21-27 (.778); Ohio 25-34 (.735); Rebounds — KSU 35/15 offensive (Barber-Smith 9), Ohio 36/12 offensive (Burris 9); Assists — KSU 14 (Golden/Carter/Modkins 3), Ohio 18 (Doseck 5); Steals — KSU 8 (Golden 4), Ohio 5 (Hooks 3); Blocks — KSU 3, Ohio 6 (Burke 2); Turnovers — KSU 17, Ohio 22; Personal fouls — KSU 28, Ohio 27; Attendance — 450; Technical fouls — None.