Redshirt Freshmen Erica Johnson shooting a free throw during Ohio’s 74-48 win over the Miami RedHawks in the 2019 MAC Semi-finals on March 15th, 2019. [Michael Roth | WOUB]

Ohio Women’s Basketball: Erica Johnson saving her best ball for the MAC tournament

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CLEVELAND, Ohio — Erica Johnson is playing like anything but a freshmen. She has back-to-back double-double’s in the MAC tournament and she’s a big reason why Ohio is headed to the MAC Championship game on Saturday against Buffalo.

Johnson followed up her 18-point, 10-rebound performance in Ohio’s 72-56 win over Northern Illinois in the MAC Quarterfinals with the same stat line in their win against Miami in the MAC semi-finals: 18 points and 10 rebounds, including 4-of-5 from three.

If Ohio is able to beat Buffalo and claim the MAC title, Johnson might just be well on her way to being named the MAC tournament MVP. But Johnson knows that without the help of her teammates, being considered MVP wouldn’t even be on the table.

“It’d mean a lot. It’d be very special. I couldn’t do it without my teammates, my coaches,” Johnson said. “They push me to my limit and they know what I can do. They believe in me when I don’t believe in myself. Sometimes if I find my head down, they’re picking me up. So to just get that accomplishment would be phenomenal.”

Erica Johnson is leading Ohio in points per game (18) and rebounds per game (10) in the 2019 MAC tournament. (Michael Roth/WOUB)
"I mean, teams always come back on us. We always get comfortable and we always relax and teams come back. So to finally put it all together and do what we know we're capable of doing, it just feels good." - Erica Johnson after Ohio's 74-48 win over Miami
Very short, like that game didn't happen. But again, we can use that game as motivation. You just move on from it. We won the first outing, they won the second outing. The team who plays the hardest and stays with it and sticks with the gameplan and executes the game plan will win, so we just have to stick to our principles." - Erica Johnson on preparing for Buffalo in the MAC Championship game.

But Johnson being the team-first player she is, has only one thing in mind.

“Our goal is to get a ring, so we want to do that by winning our conference first,” Johnson said. “Everyone wants to go dancing. You’ve got to take care of business first.”

Head coach Bob Boldon was lost for words when describing Johnson’s progression throughout her freshmen year.

“She’s good, she’s good, she’s good. She makes plays, she wants to make plays, ” Boldon said. “She’s a better basketball player than she was when the season started. It’s what you hope for for all your kids, that when the season ends, they played their best basketball.”

With Johnson leading the way, Ohio has the chance to capture their first MAC tournament title since 2015 and an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament Saturday at 11 a.m. inside the Q.