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PHOTO: Ben Weilgopolski/WOUB

Ohio Women’s Basketball: ‘Cats Grind Out Hard-Fought Win Over Akron

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ATHENS, OH — Over the course of a season, there will be games that a team has to dig deep and find a way to win a game that is unlike how they normally would go about it. Wednesday night was one of those games for the Bobcats.

With shots not falling and their best players in foul trouble early, Ohio had to find another way to beat Akron.

The Bobcats (13-6, 6-2 MAC) found it with a gritty style of play, playing great defense and getting to the foul line, which was enough to overcome the upset-minded Zips (9-10, 2-6 MAC), 70-57, en route to their fourth consecutive victory.

“I thought they showed a lot of toughness. When you’re missing shots that we were missing, it’s hard to stay in it,” Ohio head coach Bob Boldon said. “I thought the did a great job of staying in it.”

The adversity started early for the ‘Cats. In just the first five minutes, they found themselves without Erica Johnson, who was on the bench with two quick fouls, and down six points after Akron came out of the gates firing, hitting six of their first nine shots.

Even after Ohio managed to get things settled on the defensive end by forcing the Zips to miss their next seven shots, the Bobcats offense bogged down as well, also missing seven in a row. To further compound their issues, Cece Hooks picked up her second foul with 23 seconds to play in the first quarter.

After 10 minutes, the Bobcats trailed 18-16. The 16 points scored by Ohio in the opening quarter is the lowest first quarter total for the team in their eight conference games and the first time they failed to start the game without scoring at least 20 points.

“We just took into consideration the things that we weren’t doing right and just making adjustments, I think offensively we’re very stagnant,” Ohio guard Amani Burke said. “We started running some sets and just getting the ball moving and executing.”

After falling down by seven in the early part of the second quarter, Hooks began to pull the Bobcats back into the game. Over just a span of 41 seconds, Hooks forced three Akron turnovers and scored seven straight points to tie the game. However, a little over a minute after her heroic effort to get the ‘Cats back in the game, she picked up her third foul and sat for the final 4:56 of the first half.

“(The game) is harder when Cece and Erica are sitting on the bench, but that’s part of it. It’s something you got to deal with,” Boldon said. “You just have to stay mentally tough and move on.”

With Johnson being largely passive in the second quarter due to her own foul situation, the Bobcats were forced to find other ways to score. After Hooks hit a layup with 6:04 to play in the quarter, the ‘Cats didn’t score again for just over four minutes where they found points from an unlikely source.

Freshman guard Peyton Guice, who had scored just nine points in her Bobcat career before Wednesday, tallied six points in the final 2:03 to keep the ‘Cats within two going into the locker room. She set a new career-high for points with eight on just three shots.

“I thought her eight points were really big for us in a half we had a really difficult time scoring,” Boldon said. “She did a really nice job of coming in and taking high-quality shots and making them.”

“She brought all the energy that we needed. Just her presence out there defensively was very helpful,” Burke said. “It’s good to have her come off the bench because it’s that spark that we need.”

Coming out of the locker room, with the worries of the foul trouble behind them, the Bobcats took control of the game, but not at the end of the court that many who watch this team may expect. When they needed it most, the ‘Cats locked down on the defensive end, holding Akron to just 3-of-11 shooting and forcing the Zips to turn the ball over on seven of their 18 possessions in the quarter. Akron managed just eight points in the third.

“I think it was really just effort-based, we didn’t really change anything (defensively),” Boldon said. “I think we sometimes were switching just to switch, but in the third quarter, I thought we were switching to make plays.”

The Bobcats’ offense didn’t exactly light the net ablaze in the third, but they were able to do enough, in combination with their defense, to turn a two-point halftime deficit into a 10-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.

Ohio scored the first seven points of the final quarter to push out to a 17-point lead and Akron never drew closer than 10 after that.

Burke led the Bobcats with a game-high 20 points, her best offensive output since January 4. She was 6-of-14 from the field and 6-of-7 at the foul line while also hauling in six rebounds.

Hooks finished in double figures for the sixth consecutive game, tossing in 18 points despite finishing just 7-of-23 from the field. She also flirted with a triple-double finishing with nine rebounds and seven steals, which ties her season-high in a game for steals.

Johnson, who played just 22 minutes, had an efficient night. She finished with 16 points on 10 shots while also making 6-of-7 from the free-throw line.

The Bobcats drew 23 Akron fouls on the night, leading to 27 free throw attempts. They made 21 of those including going 10-of-11 in the second quarter when they were struggling to make shots.

With the win over Akron, the Bobcats successfully avoided what could have been a crushing trap game for them. Now they can focus their full attention on what could be their most important game of the regular season when they travel to Central Michigan on Saturday.

It will be the second time this season that the two top teams in the MAC face off. The first was a heartbreaking, last-second loss for the Bobcats back on January 8. The Chippewas survived a double-OT scare from Buffalo on Wednesday night to remain undefeated in MAC play.

The matchup of MAC Powerhouses is set to tip-off in McGuirk Arena at 1 p.m. on Saturday.