Caitlyn Kroll (5) and Abby Garnett (20) follow the pass from Taylor Williams (33) to Megan Wagner (11). (Evann Figueroa/WOUB)

Ohio Women’s Basketball: Bobcats Turn up the Heat in Second Half, Down Broncos

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It was only a matter of time before Cece Hooks started to heat up.

After a pregame ceremony celebrating Hooks’ eclipse of 2,000 career points,the senior, and the Bobcats (11-6, 9-5 MAC) as a whole, struggled to get their offense going out of the gate Saturday against the Western Michigan Broncos (3-12, 2-11 MAC). Tied 31-31 at the half, Ohio looked refreshed and refocused coming out of halftime. Hooks tallied 15 points in the third quarter, the Bobcats dug in their claws on defense, and Ohio built a lead they would never give up, besting the Broncos 74-52.

Hooks might have been the star of the night with a team-high 29, but she received support up and down the roster. The 2,000 point scorer was joined in double figures by Gabby Burris with 11, Jasmine Hale with 10 (on a perfect 4-4 shooting day), and Madi Mace, who scored 14 points on her birthday.

What ended up looking like a good scoring day, however, started as a slog, as the Bobcats and Broncos both struggled to put the ball in the basket, though in different ways. For Ohio, the outside shot, a point of weakness all season, was not there once again, as the Cats went 2-for-10 from distance in the first half. The Broncos, meanwhile, connected on 38.5% of their three-pointers in the first half, but also just 38.5% of their total field goals. Western Michigan is shooting sub-40 percent on the season, and their shooting woes continued Saturday, which made it difficult for the Broncos to capitalize on the Bobcats’ own wavering offense.

And after halftime, Ohio wasn’t giving their opponents any more chances.

Scoring nearly as many points in the third quarter (25) as they did the entire first half, The Bobcats followed the blueprint that has given them success all season- pushing the tempo on both ends. A steal from Kaylee Bambule turned into a Madi Mace basket. Surprise pressure from Gabby Burris and Cece Hooks on a sideline inbounds forced a bad pass out of bounds. The Bobcats looked like a very different team coming out of the break, and head coach Bob Boldon knew they needed to be to win.

“We were just kind of muddling through the first half,” Boldon said after the win. “And you get into halftime and it’s a tied game- and you’ve got to decide are you going to win or are you going to lose? And they decided to win, I think that’s a very encouraging sign moving forward.”

Gabby Burris (41) passes over Madi Mace (3) and Megan Wagner (11). (Evann Figueroa/WOUB)
Jasmine Hale (23) looks for an opening past Sydney Shafer (20). (Evann Figueroa/WOUB)
Gabby Burris (41) looks for an opening past Taylor Williams (33). (Evann Figueroa/WOUB)
Cece Hooks (1) tosses the ball up for two points. (Evann Figueroa/WOUB)

The Bobcats did not straighten out their outside shooting, finishing the game shooting 5-for-23 from downtown, but with a defense that forced 22 turnovers and a lead guard in Hooks who got to the rim at will, Ohio had enough to win by double digits. The Bobcats will next look forward to a matchup against the Northern Illinois Huskies (10-6, 8-3 MAC) on February 17.


Next Woman Up

The Bobcats were once again without second-leading scorer Erica Johnson (knee) on Saturday, and the team appeared to be missing her shot-making abilities in the first half. But the absence of Johnson has given more court time to players like Abby Garnett and Jasmine Hale. Hooks was impressed how her teammates have risen to the challenge of filling the void left by Johnson.

“It just shows how much talent we have on this team when me or Erica don’t necessarily get it done, a lot of people have been stepping up,” Hooks said of her teammates. “Madi, Kroll, Gabby, everybody’s bringing in something.”

As for an update to her status, Coach Boldon remained unsure of a concrete return date, but indicated that a potential return after their contest against Northern Illinois would be “Probably a more realistic goal.”

“We know they’re there in spirit.”

The Bobcats were without two assistant coaches Saturday due to safety protocols. Coaches Marwan Miller and Tavares Jackson were not available, and their absence was felt.

“We know they’re there in spirit,” Burris said postgame. “Jokingly as players we will say the familiar quotes that they say almost every game, we will say them to each other just to keep the spirit there.”

“It’s strange, the little things that you rely on from them that you don’t realize,” Boldon said. “Everyone has their role so to speak.”

While the assistants were missed on the bench, Boldon was adamant that the show must go on, by any means.

“The bottom line is we are happy that we are playing a basketball game. And we would play it under any circumstances,” Boldon said. “You know, they played a game without me and I was 100% on board with it because I think the kids have to play, I think it’s the only sense of normalcy these kids are getting.”

Caitlyn Kroll (5) blocks Sydney Shafer (20) during the end of the first half of OHIO’s match against Western Michigan at the Convocation Center in Athens, Ohio, on February 13, 2021. (Evann Figueroa/WOUB)

Lockdown D

The 52 points allowed by Ohio Saturday was the lowest amount they had surrendered all year, as the Bobcats totaled 11 steals and only allowed one Bronco to score more than ten points, as Sydney Shafer finished with 14 on 5-of-14 shooting. Kaylee Bambule led the team with four steals in an impressive defensive showing.

“Our energy, we played better defense,” Hooks said. “We didn’t play good defense in the first half but, the second half we came together and controlled their offense as a team so I think we’re just stepping up on defense.”

Making a Legacy

Coach Boldon presented Cece Hooks with a commemorative ball before the game to celebrate her reaching the 2,000 point mark in a ceremony that, while lacking the presence of a crowd, was still met with joy from her coaches and teammates.

“It was very special,” Hooks said.

Hooks is only the second woman in Ohio University history to score 2,000 points, but when looking back on her career, Hooks’ scoring is not the first thing to come to her mind.

“[I’m most proud of] my defense,” Hooks said of her personal legacy. “I feel like my team feeds off my energy on defense and I feel like if I’m playing really hard I feel like they’re going to play hard also.”