CLEVELAND — The great thing, as Bob Boldon has learned by now, is when you have two of the best players in the league you don’t need both to be ‘on’ to win games.
So despite foul trouble robbing Ohio of the talents junior guard Cece Hooks for huge swaths of a tournament game, the Bobcats didn’t blink, panic or give in to desperation.
OU still had Erica Johnson after all.
Johnson, Ohio’s sophomore guard and like Hooks an All-MAC First Team honoree, posted 28 points, 11 rebounds and five assists as the Bobcats downed Western Michigan — 84-75 — in a 2020 MAC Tournament Quarterfinal on Wednesday afternoon at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
“It was amazing, but we’ve seen her do that before,” Boldon said. “She stayed in control throughout.
“It was spectacular.”
Johnson picked up her third double-double in five career MAC Tournament games. She dropped in six of 11 shots from 3-point range, and administered a 3-pointer from the right side with 32 seconds left that finished off the Broncos and gave her 1,000-points — exactly — for her career.
“I was just trying to do everything my teammates needed me to do,” Johnson said.
The win kept Ohio’s season alive. Waiting for the fourth-seeded Bobcats (19-11) in the semifinals will be No. 9-seed Toledo (14-17). The Rockets sprung the upset of the tournament in the first game on Wednesday with a 78-69 win over No. 1-seed Central Michigan (23-7).
Ohio was aware of the result, but put it behind them before tipoff. CMU had beaten the Bobcats twice this season, but instead OU will face Toledo in the semifinals. The Bobcats ripped the Rockets, at home, 86-58 back on Feb. 19.
“They just beat the beat the best team in the league, like clearly the best team,” Boldon said of Toledo. “I’m not sad somebody beat us to it.”
“We don’t look ahead,” added Johnson.
Western Michigan (18-13), the fifth seed, knocked off Ohio (73-72) in mid-January. But the Broncos never got close enough in the fourth quarter to potentially spring another late-game win.
OU never trailed after breaking a 26-26 tie in the second quarter, and never saw the game dip into a single-possession margin over the final 16-plus minutes.
“They’re just nearly impossible to defend, as they showed today,” said WMU head coach Shane Clipfell.
The Broncos thought they had a chance when Hooks — the MAC’s Defensive Player of the Year — was saddled with three first-half fouls. Hooks finished with 14 points, but played just 19 minutes after fouling out with 3:37 to go.
It didn’t matter. OU simply turned to Johnson for big plays, and senior guard Amani Burke dominated the second half. Burke finished with 20 points, five rebounds and five assists, and scored 17 points in the second half.
“I liked Amani’s aggression today,” Boldon said. “That senior leadership and experience is very valuable.”
The game, like every game in the both the men’s and women’s MAC Tournaments — and perhaps soon every athletic event in the country — was played in front of a nearly non-existent crowd. The MAC announced Tuesday the public — excluding only immediate family — would be not allowed to attend the event as the state of Ohio, and the country, struggles to come to grips with the COVID-19 virus.
On Wednesday afternoon, the NCAA announced similar attendance bans would be in place for both the men’s and women’s NCAA Tournaments starting next week.
Barring a handful of parents, and the Ohio University men’s basketball team, there was no one in the seating area of the FieldHouse.
“I felt bad for the players,” Clipfell said. “I did turnaround before the game started and looked around and I was like ‘Wow.’
“I’m also glad I’m not the one who had to make that call.”
Ohio’s men’s team was into the game, loud and even led some coordinated cheers. It provided an obvious boost in the third quarter when Ohio, leading just 48-45, saw Hooks pick up her fourth foul.
The Bobcats responded with a 14-7 spurt to end the quarter and took a 68-61 lead into the fourth.
“Having them here gave us an edge,” Johnson said.
“They were loud,” added Burke. “They gave us some great energy.”
Ohio led 43-37 at the break, and survived despite three first-half fouls on Hooks.
The Bobcats landed an early 8-0 run, with Hooks providing an assist and five points after getting her second foul, for an 18-12 lead.
But the Broncos rallied, and used back-to-back 3s late in the quarter for a 22-19 lead after 10 minutes.
Hooks led another flurry, a 7-2 spurt, early in the second for a 26-24 lead, but sat the rest of the half after getting her third personal with 5:59 left in the half.
Johnson, who had 14 points in the half, picked up the slack with eight points and an assists over the final 4:33 of the half. Johnson’s step-back 3 from the right side with 45 seconds left in the half gave OU its six-point halftime lead.
WMU was led by Leighah-Amori Wool, who scored 20 points, and Breanna Mobley’s 12 points and 17 rebounds. The Broncos got as close as 48-45 early in the third, but no closer.
In the fourth, WMU trailed 70-67 when Burke connected on consecutive 3-pointers to balloon out to nine. With the men’s team roaring behind the bench, the Bobcats celebrated.
“What everyone was looking for today was energy,” Boldon said. “They helped give us some of that.”
Johnson and Burke combined to score all 16 Ohio points in the fourth quarter. Hooks may have been neutralized by whistles, but the Bobcats showed they have enough weapons to win the weekend. It will be Burke’s last chance to do so; OU fell in the championship game of the 2019 Tournament.
“It really means more this year, not that it didn’t mean as much last year, but this year it’s way different for me,” Burke said. “It’s my last shot.”
Ohio 84, Western Michigan 75
Western Mich. 22 15 24 14 — 75
Ohio 19 24 25 16 — 84
WESTERN MICHIGAN 78 (18-13)
Breanna Mobley 5 2-2 12, Leighah-Amori Wool 7 6-6 20, Chelayne Bailey 4 1-2 11, Kamrin Reed 2 0-0 6, Jordan Walker 6 1-2 15, Reilly Jacobson 2 0-0 5, Sydney Shafer 0 0-0 0, Maddie Watters 2 0-0 6, Jillian Fletcher 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 28 10-12 75; 3-point goals — 9-28 (Reed 2-3, Watters 2-3, Bailey 2-7, Walker 2-12, Jacobson 1-1, Wool 0-1, Shafer 0-1).
OHIO 84 (19-11)
Erica Johnson 9 4-4 28, Gabby Burris 3 2-2 9, Cece Hooks 5 3-5 14, Katie Barker 3 0-0 7, Amani Burke 7 2-3 20, Caitlyn Kroll 1 1-1 3, Edecia Beck 1 1-2 3, Peyton Guice 0 0-0 0, Kaylee Bambule 0 0-0 0, Abby Garnett 0 0-0 0, Maddie Bazelak 0 0-0 0, Hunger Rogan 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 29 13-17 84; 3-point goals — 13-30 (Johnson 6-11, Burke 4-6, Barker 1-2, Hooks 1-4, Burris 1-5, Beck 0-1, Rogan 0-1).
TEAM STATISTICS/INDIVIDUAL LEADERS
Field goals — Western Michigan 28-65 (.431), 3-point goals 9-28 (.321); Ohio 29-67 (.433), 3-point goals 13-30 (.433); Free throws — WMU 10-12 (.833); Ohio 13-17 (.765); Rebounds — WMU 40/12 offensive (Mobley 17), Ohio 36/16 offensive (Johnson 11); Assists — WMU 13 (Bailey 7), Ohio 15 (Johnson/Burke 5); Steals — WMU 3, Ohio 8; Blocks — WMU 1, Ohio 1; Turnovers — WMU 10, Ohio 7; Personal fouls — WMU 15, Ohio 12; Attendance — 960; Technical fouls — None