Johnson Bobcats Basketball
Erica Johnson (4) attempts a layup during the Bobcats’ 86-58 win over Toledo on February 19, 2020. PHOTO: Charles Hatcher/WOUB

Ohio Women’s Basketball: ‘Cats Dominate Second Half to Cruise Past Rockets

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ATHENS, OH — In the days following the tragic death of Kobe Bryant, Ohio’s Erica Johnson decided to pay tribute to the NBA legend by wearing his No. 24 during the Bobcats’ game against Akron.

In the five games since she donned Bryant’s number, she has emulated the killer instinct that the ‘Mamba Mentality’ embodied.

There is no better example of Johnson’s cold-blooded mentality than the show she gave the Bobcat faithful in the Convo on Wednesday night.

The ‘Cats (17-7, 10-3 MAC) got 31 points from Johnson as they dismantled Toledo (11-13, 6-7 MAC) on both ends of the floor in the second half to cruise to an 86-58 victory to keep their grip of the No.2 seed in the upcoming MAC Tournament.

“Not that I’ve seen,” Ohio head coach Bob Boldon said when asked if anyone in the MAC is playing better than Johnson right now. “The efficiency she is playing with is absurd.”

In the Bobcats last five games, Johnson has put up numbers that have vaulted her to the top of the list of candidates for MAC Player of the Year. Since the calendar flipped to February, she is averaging 23.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 5.4 assists while also only turning the ball over 11 times in those five games. 

To go along with her 31 points, Johnson also dished out nine assists and grabbed eight rebounds on Wednesday night. It was her second straight game flirting with a triple-double.

“She’s unstoppable,” Ohio guard Cece Hooks said.

That statement is hard to argue with. Johnson has not only been able to generate almost whatever she wants on the offensive end, but she is also converting on those looks at a high rate, shooting 44.3 percent (43-of-97) from the field and 41.3 percent (19-of-46) from three.

On Wednesday, she had her best shooting performance since early November, hitting on 11 of her 17 shot attempts, including a blistering 8-of-11 from long distance.

Of course, after what happened last season when the Bobcats traveled to Toledo to take on the Rockets, a 76-50 loss in which the Bobcats shot a season-low 7.7 percent from beyond the arch, there was some extra motivation.

“My pre-game speech was to beat them by 26. The coaches wouldn’t let us forget (last year),” Johnson said. “It was our goal to get that.”

While the numbers on the offensive end were dazzling, the Bobcats were able to achieve that goal by playing well on the other end of the floor as well.

The mid-quarter media timeout of the third quarter saw the Bobcats leading by two, 47-45. Out of that timeout, both teams traded baskets, but with four minutes to play in the third, the Ohio defense slammed the door on Toledo.

For just over 12 minutes of game time, spanning both the third and fourth quarter, the Rockets only points came at the foul line.

The Bobcats orchestrated a 30-2 run to build a 79-49 lead. During that run, the ‘Cats forced nine Toledo turnovers and 14 consecutive missed shots.

“We always let teams come back, we only had a four-point lead at the half,” Johnson said. “We tried to build on that and I thought we did a pretty good job of not letting them get back into the game once they were down.”

“We’ve gotten much better job of moving to the ball and protecting gaps,” Boldon said. “We got a lead and we built on it, I thought our defensive intensity picked up every possession instead of going the other way.”

Over the course of the entire game, the Bobcats generated 23 turnovers and turned them into 17 points. Hooks and Johnson led the way in picking the pockets of Toledo players, each nabbing four steals in the game.

Johnson and Hooks, who finished with 20 points and seven rebounds, also combined to score 51 of the Bobcats’ 86 points, shooting 20-of-37 from the field to do it. That same tandem has combined to win the last five MAC East Player of the Week awards with Johnson winning three and Hooks two.

They are both very much in contention for All-MAC first-team honors at season’s end, but their coach also believes that both are in contention for MAC Player of the Year as well.

“This is the first time we’ve had a team where two players that are this dominant,” Boldon said. “At some point, there’s a story to be told about how well those two coexist with each other. To do that as a 20-year old with another 20-year old that is playing the exact same position as you is hard and they deserve a lot of credit for the way they’ve been able to do that and take us to where we are today.”

“Absolutely,” Boldon said when asked if Johnson is playing like a MAC Player of the Year.

“So is Cierra,” he added.

While the ultimate goal is to hoist the MAC Tournament trophy come mid-March, Johnson and Hooks understand that this level of success between two players doesn’t come around all that often.

“It would mean a lot,” Johnson said. “We’ve been working hard, and to see stuff pay off, besides winning a MAC Tournament, it would mean a lot.”

Just five games stand between the Bobcats and the MAC Tournament and they are arguably playing their best basketball of the season.

“We know it’s coming down to crunch time. We’re just locked into doing what we need to do,” Johnson said. “Our next goal is to win the MAC Tournament, so these last few games, I feel like we’ve been focused.”

That focus will need to remain at a high level as three of the ‘Cats final five regular season games will be on the road, starting with a trip up I-77 this weekend to Akron.

The Bobcats beat the Zips comfortably in the Convo on January 29 despite not playing their best game. They’ll need their best in the J.A.R.

The game between the Bobcats and Zips will tip at 1 p.m. on Saturday.