Back in the Convo

Ohio sophomore guard Erica Johnson (4), seen here earlier this season, had 23 points as the Bobcats beat Northern Illinois, 87-67, in the Convocation Center on Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020.

The Ohio University, finally, made its return to the Convocation Center.

Was it a triumphant one? Yeah, you could say that.

The Bobcats hammered Northern Illinois, 87-67, in the Convo on Saturday afternoon in the Mid-American Conference opener for both teams. Ohio (8-4, 1-0 MAC) never trailed after opening the game with a 7-0 spurt, and never led by less than 20 points over the final 34 minutes.

“Absolutely,” said Ohio senior guard Amani Burke when asked if the Bobcats wanted to send a message in their conference opener.

“The next couple of games will be tone-setters too, not just the first one.”

It was the second straight win for Ohio, the preseason MAC favorite that had not played at home since a 70-64 win back on Dec. 7. The Bobcats had the toughest non-conference slate in the MAC this season, a desired setup after being one of the first-four teams left out of the NCAA Tournament last spring.

Ohio dropped four non-conference games, all away from home and all against power conference opponents (Syracuse, Butler, TCU, Texas). OU beat a couple as well. But combined, was it enough to create a different result in March if Ohio is in the same position?

“My gut tells me we came up one (win) short,” said head coach Bob Boldon. “It is what it is.”

The multiple tests early on left Ohio with a firm grasp of what it is, and how good it can be. The Bobcats are ready to show the MAC what they can do now, and got off to a great start against the Huskies.

“From now on we can only really worry about what we can control,” said sophomore guard Erica Johnson. “We’re really focused on us.

“(The non-conference schedule) I think is going to gear us up fro what we’re going to see moving forward.”

NIU (4-8, 0-1 MAC) lost its third straight, and for the fifth time in its last six games. The Huskies had no answer for OU’s defensive pressure — they finished with 28 turnovers — and trailed 25-17 after the first quarter after 11 takeaways in the first 10 minutes.

NIU shot 42.6 percent overall and hit on nine 3-pointers. Gabby Nikitinaite had a team-high 16 points off the bench, and Shelby Koker had 10 points. But leading scorer Courtney Woods was held to nine points on 3 of 10 shooting, and had six turnovers.

OU cashed in the 28 takeaways, and 15 steals, for 33 points going the other direction.

“Our pressure, that type of stuff, that’s just what we do,” Burke said.

Johnson sparkled in her second game back from injury for the Bobcats. She finished with a game-high 23 points, hit 9 of 13 from the field and converted five 3-pointers. Johnson also added team-highs of eight rebounds and five assists.

“Today felt like my first real game back,” she said.

“Sis was hitting today,” added Burke.

Burke poured in 22 points, with four 3-pointers. Junior forward Gabby Burris added 16 points and seven rounds, and junior guard Cece Hooks chipped in eight points, four assists and three steals.

While NIU had no real answer for the OU’s defense, it also couldn’t contend with the Bobcats’ two-pronged offense. Ohio got to the rim with easy in the first quarter against NIU’s man-to-man defense.

In the second quarter, Ohio hit five 3-pointers against NIU’s zones. OU converted 14 3-pointers on the day.

Leading 30-23, the Bobcats buried the Huskies with a 17-2 run. Katie Barker and Burke hits consecutive 3-pointers to open the run, then Johnson and Burris added two more as OU hit four 3s on four straight possessions.

“Shooting the ball like we did in the first half helps,” Boldon said.

Ohio led 50-28 at the half, and stretched the lead out to as many as 29 points midway through the third quarter. The Bobcats didn’t win the MAC on the first day of the conference season, but they did send a clear message they’ll be in contention.

“We were excited to be at home,” Boldon said. “It was important to play well.”

OU returns to action on Wednesday with a 7 p.m. start against Central Michigan in the Convo.

Ohio 87, NIU 67

NIU 17 11 16 23 — 67

Ohio 25 25 18 19 — 87

NORTHERN ILLINOIS (4-8, 0-1 MAC) 67

Courtney Woods 3 2-2 9, Riley Blackwell 3 0-0 7, Ally May 3 0-0 8, Chelby Koker 2 4-4 10, Myia Starks 0 2-4 2, Gabby Nikitinaite 6 0-0 16, Abby Woollacott 1 0-0 2, Mikayla Brandon 1-2 0-1 2, A’Jah Davis 1 0-2 2, Janae Poisson 3 1-2 9, Ninni Salmi 0 0-0 0, Rachel Dumoulin 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 23 9-15 67; 3-point goals — 12-32 (Nikitinaite 4-7, May 2-4, Poisson 2-5, Koker 2-6, Blackwell 1-2, Woods 1-7, Brandon 0-1).

OHIO (8-4, 1-0 MAC) 87

Erica Johnson 9 0-0 23, Gabby Burris 6 2-4 16, Cece Hooks 3 2-2 8, Katie Barker 2 0-0 6, Amani Burke 7 4-5 22, Caitlyn Kroll 1 0-0 2, Deesh Beck 1 3-6 6, Peyton Guice 0 0-0 0, Maddie Bazelak 2 0-0 4, Abby Garnett 0 0-0 0, Hunter Rogan 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 31 11-17 87; 3-point goals — 14-33 (Johnson 5-9, Burke 4-8, Burris 2-5, Barker 2-7, Beck 1-1, Kroll 0-3).

TEAM STATISTICS/INDIVIDUAL LEADERS

Field goals — NIU 23-54 (.426), 3-point goals 12-32 (.375); Ohio 31-67 (.463), 3-point goals 14-33 (.424); Free throws — NIU 9-15 (.600); Ohio 11-17 (.647); Rebounds — NIU 39/13 offensive (May 10), Ohio 33/13 offensive (Johnson 8); Assists — NIU 16 (Woods 5), Ohio 17 (Johnson 5); Steals — NIU 10 (Koker 3), Ohio 15 (Beck 4); Blocks — NIU 2, Ohio 1; Turnovers — NIU 28, Ohio 15; Personal fouls — NIU 19, Ohio 16; Attendance — 448; Technical fouls — None.

Email at jarkley@athensmessenger.com; follow on Twitter @JasonAmessenger

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