Cece Hooks (1) drives past a Ball State defender during the Bobcats’ 79-71 win over Ball State on January 18, 2020. PHOTO: Ben Weilgopolski

Ohio Women’s Basketball: Hooks, Johnson Propel ‘Cats Past Ball State

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ATHENS, OH — The Bobcats were cruising on offense in the first half. Shots were falling in a way they haven’t yet in MAC play. Only one thing was able to slow down Ohio in the first 20 minutes: gravity.

With just over a minute to play in the first half, Cece Hooks grabbed an offensive board and put up a shot while getting fouled. The ball bounced a couple of times and came to rest on the flange of the rim. The game froze and some laughter spread through the Convo.

“It was amazing,” Ohio head coach Bob Boldon said with a laugh.

The once-in-a-lifetime moment wasn’t all that was amazing on Saturday afternoon. The Bobcats themselves were as well. A pair of 20-point performances from Hooks and Erica Johnson led the way for Ohio (10-6, 3-2 MAC) as they won comfortably over Ball State (11-6, 3-2 MAC), 79-71.

“(Today) looked more like how we play. That was comforting,” Boldon said. “It’s not only comforting, I think it’s exciting moving forward.”

In losing two of their last three, both in the final seven seconds, the Bobcats had shown inconsistency at both ends of the floor. In both losses, Ohio came out of the gates firing on all cylinders, outscoring Central Michigan and Western Michigan 45-27 in the first quarter.

They followed that up by being outscored by a combined 16 points, 37-21, in the second quarter to watch nice leads evaporate before halftime.

There was no such second-quarter lull on Saturday.

After scoring more than 20 first-quarter points for the fifth straight time in conference play, the Bobcats held a 24-21 lead. However, for just the second time in MAC play, they extended their lead in the second quarter, outscoring the Cardinals 25-16 to go into the half leading by 12, 49-37.

“Carrying the momentum into the locker room is always great,” Ohio guard Erica Johnson said. “It felt great.”

The 49 points scored by the ‘Cats in the first 20 minutes is the second-most this season, only one point behind their 50-point first half against Northern Illinois on January 4. Johnson and Hooks were key factors in that offensive explosion, combining to score 31 points (16 for Johnson, 15 for Hooks) on 12-of-23 shooting.

“For sure,” Boldon said when asked if players like Johnson and Hooks have a green light to shoot when they’re hot. “The players know what’s going on. We didn’t run a single play for them. They’re going to get those guys shots and give them space to do their thing.”

Hooks continued her hot shooting into the second half, scoring another 10 points to give her a game-high 25 points on the afternoon. It is her sixth time scoring 20 or more points in her last nine games. 

Look for her to be named MAC East Player of the Week in the coming days. The potential is there for her fifth Player of the Week award after averaging 26.5 points on 47 percent shooting (55 percent inside the arc) and 6 rebounds in the ‘Cats two games this week. 

“Everybody knows that Cece Hooks wants to shoot a layup, they were (about eight feet) off of her tempting her to shoot,” Boldon said. “To her credit, she still shot 16 layups.”

She made 10 of those 16 layup attempts on Saturday afternoon, many of them heavily contested, drawing five Ball State fouls on those shots.

“She does an amazing job. The number of people that foul (Hooks) during a game is incredible,” Boldon said. “She puts a lot of pressure on you to guard her.”

Johnson finished with 21 points, her fifth 20+ point outing of the season. She also grabbed a game-high 13 boards, which also ties her career-high for rebounds in a game, to rack up her fourth double-double of the season.

The third member of the Bobcats’ “Big Three”, Amani Burke, played for the first time in 10 days without dealing with complications from the flu on Saturday. After averaging just eight points over Ohio’s last three games and shooting just 27.5 percent, she bounced back to looking more like herself against Ball State.

Burke ended the game with 16 points and six rebounds, shooting 7-of-11 from the field.

“She was feeling like the same ol’ Amani today,” Hooks said.

One advantage that the Bobcats ended up having over the Cardinals that many would have not expected was rebounding. Ball State starts three women that are listed at 6-foot-1 or taller and the Bobcats have none in their starting lineup taller than 5-foot-11.

The ‘Cats won the rebounding battle by seven, 42-35.

“It’s just effort,” Hooks said. “We know we can out-rebound other teams if we put in the effort and try.”

“It’s just a matter of want-to. I think they have a little bit of a chip on their shoulder about the perception of us across the conference that we’re a bad rebounding team,” Boldon said. “We have some pretty strong-willed women that, when they put their mind to something, they can do it. Today was an example of that.”

The Bobcats should look to keep that chip on their shoulder in their upcoming games. They have yet to string together two consecutive wins in conference play and are already two games behind Central Michigan for the top-seed in the conference championship.

Their next game will be their first rematch of 2020 when they travel to Dekalb, Illinois to face Northern Illinois. The Bobcats beat the Huskies 87-67 (4-11, 0-4 MAC) just 14 days ago.

That game is set to tip-off in NIU’s Convocation Center on Wednesday night at 6 p.m.