Note: This story appears in the Sunday, March 31 newspaper on Page B1.
Bob Boldon nestled the headset over his ears and looked down at the floor of the Convocation Center.
There, he saw the ‘Marching 110’ playing proudly. He saw his players celebrating a win and soaking in every second. He saw fans applauding and issuing an appreciation for the Bobcats he hadn’t seen all season.
“Awesome,” said Boldon minutes later, without a hint of his trademark sarcasm in his voice.
You can say the same about his Bobcats.
The Ohio University women’s basketball team, which never trailed in the second half, posted a 68-60 win over Western Kentucky on Thursday night inside the Convo. It was win No. 30 on the season for Ohio (30-5), and moved the Bobcats into the quarterfinal round of the 2019 Women’s NIT.
It’s the deepest postseason run in Ohio’s history. And Boldon’s crew became the first basketball team in Ohio history — men or women — to win 30 games in a single season.
“It’s a big number,” Boldon mused.
“Three years ago we weren’t talking about 30. That wasn’t even a thought,” he continued. “That wasn’t a thought for these guys a month and a half ago.”
It’s reality now. Ohio is one of eight teams still alive for the 2019 WNIT championship. The Bobcats traveled to Evanston, Illinois for a 7 p.m. start against Northwestern (19-14) in the quarterfinal round (regional final) on Saturday night.
And this particular Ohio group will keep trying to add to No. 30. It’s a milestone not reached by D.J. Cooper, Walter Offutt and John Groce. Gary Trent, Jeff Boals and Larry Hunter couldn’t get there. Neither could Snoopy Graham, Dave Jamerson and Danny Nee.
What about program greats Caroline Mast, or Marlene Stollings? Nope. Boldon himself couldn’t do it a few years ago with Kiyanna Black and Quiera Lampkins.
Instead it was this batch of Bobcats that made history. There’s hard-charging and quick-handed sophomore guard Cece Hooks, who needs just 26 steals in the next two-plus years to set a new Ohio record for steals. There’s junior guard Amani Burke, a 1,000-point scorer known for her 3-point shooting but has become the team’s second-best defender. There’s blue-collar sophomore forward Gabby Burris, velvety-smooth redshirt freshman Erica Johnson and the coach-on-the-floor in senior guard Dominque Doseck.
Add in a bench doing just enough, and the Bobcats assembled the pieces into a historic outfit.
“I think we knew our team was special from day 1,” Burke said, in-between comments and jokes with Hooks during the postgame press conference. “We just go out, play together, have fun. We’re not thinking about stats or records or anything like that.
“We just prove (it) to everybody. They doubted us and we’re better than what they thought.”
Ohio, picked to finish third in the MAC East before the season began, is now the last MAC team still playing. It earned the right to another game on Thursday with a competent, gritty showing that lacked scintillating shooting prowess but more than made up for it with hard work.
Hooks drove the offense, and defense, with 21 points, four rebounds, three assists and four steals. Burris, giving up five inches to Western Kentucky’s duo of 6-4 forwards, notched her fourth double-double of the year with 12 points and a game-high 11 rebounds. Burke netted 15 points with three steals and two blocked shots. And Johnson added 11 points and four assists. Doseck (6 points, 3 assists) rounded the effort that saw Ohio shoot just 26.9 percent from 3-point range and score just three bench points.
It was still more than enough.
“They deserve a lot of credit for it because the last two (wins) they’ve gone in ways we haven’t typically done it,” Boldon explained. “To be able to dig through (bad shooting) and stay focused, (hit) timely shots.
“It says a lot about your toughness.”
WKU (20-15) had four in double figures led by Alexis Brewer’s 14 points. Whitney Creech added 13 and six assists, while leading scorers Dee Givens (6-1 forward) and Raneem Elgedawy (6-4 center) were held to 11 points apiece. Given and Elgedawy combined for 10 turnovers.
The Bobcats were quicker, and sharper, in the first quarter and closed the frame with a 10-2 run to stake a 19-12 lead. Olivia Bower’s 3-pointer to end the quarter, then Doseck’s trey — from a tough corner angle behind the backboard — gave Ohio a 22-12 lead early in the second.
The Toppers blitzed back into it, however, behind a spate of takeaways and transition buckets. The Bobcats hit just 1 of 7 from the arc in the second quarter, and six turnovers set the table for a 16-2 WKU run.
After Creech scored twice off the dribble, the Toppers led 28-24. But Oho used an 8-3 punch to end the half, and took a 32-31 into the break after Burke scored on a drive with one second left.
The Bobcats never trailed again. Hooks said Ohio fed off the crowd — and the listed attendance of 1,491 — throughout. It was the largest non-gimmick crowd of Boldon’s six years with the program.
“We fed off their energy. They were hyped the whole game,” Hooks said. “They were excited. We were excited.”
Hooks scored seven points in the opening minutes of the second half and put the Toppers on their heels with constant drives, and attacks at the rim. Burke’s left-corner 3 capped a 7-0 spurt late in the quarter and Ohio took a 50-45 lead into the fourth.
WKU was held to just just nine made field goals over the game’s last 15 minutes, and shot just 26.7 percent in the fourth quarter.
Another Burke corner 3, Burris’ triple from the opposite corner, and cutting layups from Johnson and Hooks gave Ohio 66-57 lead with 2:10 left. And the Bobcats knew they’d be playing again.
The longest season in program history will grow yet longer.
“Mentally, we are really tired. But we feel good,” Burke said. “We’re just playing.”
Whenever the season comes to a close, Thursday’s win will be one of the pinnacles remembered fondly. Boldon credited the Ohio athletic department for shelling out the money in order to host games in the tournament. He lauded his players for embracing the WNIT and continuing to grow.
And the figurative payout came when he watched an engaged, enthusiastic crowd embrace a team making history on its own floor.
“You got to be grateful for what you have. I am very grateful that we have had this opportunity,” Boldon said.
“That moment when the buzzer went off, and the band was playing, and the fans were cheering, that’s something these kids will remember forever,” he said. “That’s a pretty special moment.”
Ohio 68, Western Kentucky 60
Western Ky. 12 19 14 15 — 60
Ohio 19 13 18 18 — 68
WESTERN KENTUCKY 60 (20-15)
Dee Givens 3 4-5 11, Raneem Elgedawy 4 3-8 11, Whitney Creech 5 3-4 13, Alexis Brewer 5 0-0 14, Meral Abdelgawad 0 0-0 0, Arame Niang 4 0-0 9, Sherry Porter 1 0-0 2, Jae’Lisa Allen 0 0-2 0, Terry Smith 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 22 10-19 60; 3-point goals — 6-15 (Brewer 4-5, Niang 1-2, Givens 1-5, Creech 0-1, Abdelgawad 0-1, Porter 0-1).
OHIO 68 (30-5)
Erica Johnson 4 3-4 11, Gabby Burris 4 3-4 12, Cece Hooks 8 5-7 21, Amani Burke 6 0-0 15, Dominique Doseck 2 0-0 6, Olivia Bower 1 0-0 3, Kaylee Bambule 0 0-0 0, Deesh Beck 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 25 11-15 68; 3-point goals — 7-26 (Burke 3-8, Doseck 2-7, Bower 1-1, Burris 1-3, Bambule 0-1, Hooks 0-2, Johnson 0-4).
TEAM STATISTICS/INDIVIDUAL LEADERS
Field goals — Western Kentucky 22-54 (.407), 3-point goals 6-15 (.400); Ohio 25-55 (.455), 3-point goals 7-26 (.269); Free throws — WKU 10-19 (.526); Ohio 11-15 (.733); Rebounds — WKU 38/16 offensive (Givens 7), Ohio 30/10 offensive (Burris 11); Assists — WKU 12 (Creech 6), Ohio 13 (Hooks 4); Steals — WKU 5, Ohio 9 (Hooks 4); Blocks — WKU 2 (Givens 2), Ohio 7 (Burke 2); Turnovers — WKU 13, Ohio 9; Personal fouls — WKU 15, Ohio 18; Attendance — 1,491; Technical fouls — None.