Ultimately, the Bobcats’ big three did what they usually do, and Ohio’s defense caused its usual amount of havoc.
But OU’s latest win — a 70-57 grind-it-out affair over Akron in the Convo on Wednesday night — could’ve played out a lot differently if not for a newcomer.
Freshman guard Peyton Guice scored a career-high eight points, all in the first half, to help Ohio hold the line until things got back to normal. Down two at the break, the Bobcats rolled in the second half — 38-23 — for their fourth-straight win.
“She was really big for us, and in a half where we had a really difficult time scoring,” said Ohio head coach Bob Boldon.
Senior guard Amani Burke led Ohio with 20 points, but 13 came in the second half and 11 in the fourth quarter. Junior guard Cece Hooks finished with 18 points, nine rebounds, four assists, seven steals and two blocked shots. But before he attacked the Zips with no remorse, she was saddled with three fouls in the first half.
And sophomore guard Erica Johnson, wearing a No. 24 jersey on this night in honor of Kobe Bryant, scored 16 points and handed out four assists. But she was dogged with foul trouble throughout and fouled out with more than five minutes remaining.
The Bobcats (13-6, 6-2 Mid-American Conference) won their fourth straight game and second in a row by double figures, but it was a struggle.
Burke said Guice, whose previous high was just three points, got Ohio back on track.
“She brought all the energy defensively,” Burke said. “She’s young. She’s a smart player. She’s a breath of fresh air.”
Akron (9-10, 2-6 MAC) got 18 points from Alyssa Clay on the strength of five made 3-pointers and three fouls shots (off a foul on a 3-point attempt). Haliegh Reinoehl added 14 points and six rebounds.
But the Zips couldn’t handle the pressure once Ohio dialed it up. Akron was forced into 25 turnovers, which led to 22 OU points, and the loss was its most lop-sided setback in conference play.
“We knew when Erica got the two early fouls we were going to have to pick this up,” Guice said.
Ohio led for just 39 seconds of the first half, and trailed 34-32 after two quarters of face-palming frustration for Boldon.
First, Johnson and then Hooks got two personal fouls in the early going.
And the Bobcats could not find the bottom of the bucket, shooting 29.4 percent in the half with just one 3-pointer on seven attempts. And OU turned the ball over at an uncommon rate, with 10 in 10 minutes.
Akron broke on top with four straight makes early in the first quarter and played with the lead for the rest of the half. The Zips led by as many as seven points, at 23-16, early in the second quarter before Hooks landed a 7-0 run all by herself to knot it back up.
But Hooks left the half for good with her third foul just seconds later, and Akron eased into the break with the two-point lead.
Ohio was fortunate to be that close, and owed it in large part to Guice. Guice hit both of her first-half shots, and was 4-for-4 at the foul line. She had six of Ohio’s final nine points of the half to keep it close.
“She’s been getting much better,” Boldon said. “But this was the first time, offensively, where she really impacted a game.”
Ohio, led by Hooks, Johnson and Burke, owned the second half. Hooks’ layup, set up by a nifty pass from Johnson, gave Ohio the lead for good at 37-36 with 7:24 left in the third quarter.
The ‘Cats ended the quarter with a 7-0 run, initiated by Johnson’s 3-pointer, to forge a 52-42 lead going into the fourth.
When Burke hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key early in the fourth, Ohio had raced out to a 59-42 lead and never looked back.
“We had to remember who we are, and get back to our principles,” Burke said. “We had to pick it up.”
Akron had just 18 second-half points until the final 40 seconds before scoring the final five to eat into an 18-point deficit.
“This was our first time in this situation in a while,” Boldon said, referring to a clunky offensive night. “I thought it was good for us to work our way through that.”
Ohio has won four straight since a surprising road loss at Western Michigan on Jan. 15. The Bobcats lead the East, but trail MAC overall leader — Central Michigan — by two full games.
OU gets its rematch with CMU (15-4, 8-0 MAC) on Saturday at 1 p.m. in Mount Pleasant. The Chips won, in double overtime, by a 98-93 count on Wednesday at Buffalo.
Burke said she’ll be missing the rematch to attend a funeral. It’s another hurdle for OU, which dropped a 73-71 decision to CMU in the first meeting this season
“It’s no secret…our players are excited about this one coming up,” Boldon said. “We’ve known that for a month.
“The way they’ve taken care of business since (WMU) is encouraging.”
Ohio 70, Akron 57
Akron 18 16 8 15 — 57
Ohio 16 16 20 18 — 70
AKRON 57 (9-10, 2-6 MAC)
Hailegh Reinoehl 6 0-0 14, Caitlin Vari 2 1-2 5, Jordyn Dawson 2 2-2 6, Alyssa Clay 5 3-3 18, Shayna Harmon 1 0-0 2, Kendall Miller 4 0-1 8, Shaunay Edmonds 1 2-2 4, Gabrielle Brown-Mitchell 0 0-0 0, Lonasia Brewer 0 0-0 0, Colleen Neitzel 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 21 8-10 57; 3-point goals — 7-23 (5-11, Reinoehl 2-5, Edmonds 0-1, Neitzel 0-1, Miller 0-2, Harmon 0-3).
OHIO 70 (13-6, 6-2 MAC)
Erica Johnson 4 6-7 16, Gabby Burris 0 1-2 1, Cece Hooks 7 4-7 18, Katie Barker 1 0-0 3 Amani Burke 6 6-7 20, Caitlyn Kroll 0 0-0 0, Edecia Beck 2 0-0 4, Peyton Guice 2 4-4 8, Kaylee Bambule 0 0-0 0, Abby Garnett 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 22 21-27 79; 3-point goals — 5-15 (Johnson 2-4, Burke 2-4, Barker 1-2, Beck 0-1, Hooks 0-2, Kroll 0-2).
TEAM STATISTICS/INDIVIDUAL LEADERS
Field goals — Akron 21-55 (.382), 3-point goals 7-23 (.304); Ohio 22-61 (.361), 3-point goals 5-15 (.333); Free throws — Akron 8-10 (.800); Ohio 21-27 (.778); Rebounds — Akron 34/4 offensive (Dawson 11), Ohio 40/10 offensive (Hooks 9); Assists — Akron 14 (Dawson 4), Ohio 10 (Johnson/Hooks 4); Steals — Akron 6, Ohio 14 (Hooks 7); Blocks — Akron 1, Ohio 2 (Hooks 2); Turnovers — Akron 25, Ohio 17; Personal fouls — Akron 24, Ohio 16; Attendance — 556; Technical fouls — Akron 1 (Jordyn Dawson, 0:23, 3Q); Ohio 1 (Erica Johnson, 0:23, 3Q)