Erica Johnson turned in two potential game-winning buckets.
The problem for Ohio was the Bobcats needed three.
Gabrielle Bird hit a 3-pointer from the right wing with seven seconds left to lift Central Michigan past OU, 73-71, in a battle of Mid-American Conference heavyweights on Wednesday night inside the Convocation Center.
“I thought it looked like we had a hand up,” said Ohio head coach Bob Boldon. “I thought we contested and she made a tough shot.
Ohio (8-5, 1-1 MAC) was the preseason favorite to win the MAC regular-season and tournament titles. The Chippewas (9-4, 2-0 MAC), the West Division favorites this year, have won each of the last three MAC regular-season titles.
It was a battle throughout, and capped by a dizzying final minute with four lead changes in the final 26 seconds. Even after Bird, a senior, hit what turned out to be the game-winner, the Bobcats had a chance to steal it again.
On Ohio’s final possession, Johnson — Ohio’s sophomore guard — got the ball above the foul line. She drove left, and fired an off-balance hanging jumper from the foul line. The shot hit the back iron, and clanged off. CMU got the rebound, and the win.
“That’s on me,” said Johnson, who finished with 17 points and nine rebounds. “I got the look that I wanted. I should’ve finished it.”
CMU led 68-66 with one minute left after Micaela Kelly, the nation’s No. 2 leading scorer, put back a miss for the Chips.
Johnson countered with 25.4 seconds remaining. After getting a rebound, Johnson went the length of the floor and finished through contact for a 3-point play to give OU a 69-68 lead.
CMU took the lead back with 19.7 seconds left after freshman guard Molly Davis hit a pair of free throws for a 70-69 lead.
Johnson struck again, this time with a hanging jumper in the line that fell through for a 71-70 lead with 10.1 left on the clock. After a time out, CMU took the ball at half court and needed just one pass to Bird on the right side for the game winner.
“She hit a big shot,” said Ohio junior guard Cece Hooks. “We’ll see them again.”
The rematch, in Mount Pleasant, won’t be until Feb. 1. Until then, Ohio will likely rue the missed opportunity on Wednesday night.
The Bobcats battled CMU to a draw on the glass, and finished +13 in the turnovers. OU had 17 points from the takeaways, and only sent the Chips to the foul line four times. All told, Ohio took 23 more shots from the field than the opponent — and still lost. Boldon pondered a drawn-out 10 seconds trying to figure out why his team lost despite winning key numbers on the stat sheet.
“We missed a lot of shots?” he asked.
Ohio did, in fact, miss a lot of shots. OU shot just 35.4 percent overall, and missed 53 field goal attempts. The Bobcats hit 4 of 8 from 3-point range en route to building a 24-12 first-quarter lead, but was just 2 of 17 from 3-point range the rest of the way.
“The first quarter was great,” Johnson said. “But we need to learn to play all 40 minutes.”
Hooks, despite a plethora of misses from close range, was still dominating in stretches and finished with a game-high 27 points. She added nine rebounds and four steals.
But Johnson and Hooks were the only two players in double figures for OU. Leading scorer Amani Burke was held to seven points on 3 of 16 shooting. Junior forward Gabby Burris had nine points and 10 rebounds.
Kelly was held under her scoring average, and finished with 21 points on 22 shots and had seven turnovers.
But the Chips got a big lift from Davis — 11 points, eight rebounds, eight assists — and had four players in double figures. CMU shot better than 50 percent from the field as Bird (17 points and 11 rebounds) and center Kyra Bussell (10 points) also contributed.
Ohio started hot and led by as many as 15 points in the first quarter. OU still led, 30-17, in the middle of the second before CMU flipped the game with an 18-0 run. Ohio trailed 35-34 at the break.
“We’ve got to lock down and play some defense there,” Hooks said.
Ohio scored a 7-0 run to open the second to retake the lead, but CMU had the answer again. This time Kelly — who had six points and three assists over a three-minute span — led a 15-4 run to give CMU a 52-45 lead. The Chips led 56-51 entering the fourth.
Ohio tied it twice in the fourth, before seemingly getting over the hump — twice — on Johnson’s makes late.
Johnson and Hooks admitted part of the roster was fighting through illness, but Johnson shot down any notion of that being the difference in the game.
“It ain’t never the time to get sick,” she said. “But you got to play through those things. It’s just mental toughness.
“We know what we need to fix, but it hurts.”
The immediate road doesn’t get any easier for Ohio. On Saturday, the Bobcats travel to Buffalo (10-4, 1-1 MAC) for a 2 p.m. start. The Bulls beat OU in the 2019 MAC Tournament Championship game, but lost on Tuesday (71-59) at Toledo.
“We’ve got to make this (home loss) up somewhere,” Boldon said. “It’s pretty easy (to keep looking forward) when you have to play Buffalo in three days.”
Central Michigan 73, Ohio 71
CMU 12 23 21 17 — 73
Ohio 24 10 17 20 — 71
CENTRAL MICHIGAN 73 (9-4, 2-0 MAC)
Kyra Bussell 5 0-0 10, Jahari Smith 1 0-0 2, Micaela Kelly 9 1-2 21, Maddy Watters 3 0-0 8, Molly Davis 4 2-2 11, Gabrielle Bird 6 0-0 17, Mackenna Kelly 2 0-0 4, Kalle Martinez 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 30 3-4 73; 3-point goals — 10-29 (Bird 5-8, Watters 2-6, Micaela Kelly 2-10, Davis 1-3, Bussell 0-1, Mackenna Kelly 0-1).
OHIO 71 (8-5, 1-1 MAC)
Erica Johnson 6 3-3 17, Gabby Burris 4 0-1 9, Cece Hooks 12 3-5 27, Katie Barker 1 0-0 3, Amani Burke 3 1-2 7, Caitlyn Kroll 3 0-0 8, Deesh Beck 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 29 7-11 71; 3-point goals — 6-25 (Kroll 2-2, Johnson 2-9, Burris 1-3, Barker 1-3, Hooks 0-1, Beck 0-1, Burke 0-6).
TEAM STATISTICS/INDIVIDUAL LEADERS
Field goals — Central Michigan 30-59 (.508), 3-point goals 10-29 (.345); Ohio 29-82 (.354), 3-point goals 6-25 (.240); Free throws — CMU 3-4 (.750); Ohio 7-11 (.636); Rebounds — CMU 43/6 offensive (Bird 11), Ohio 43/19 offensive (Burris 10); Assists — CMU 19 (Davis 8), Ohio 5; Steals — CMU 5 (Mi. Kelly 3), Ohio 10 (Hooks 4); Blocks — CMU 4 (Bussell 3), Ohio 3 (Johnson 2); Turnovers — CMU 19, Ohio 6; Personal fouls — CMU 11, Ohio 9; Attendance — 640; Technical fouls — None.