March ended a day early in Ohio.
The Ohio Bobcats were eliminated in the quarterfinals of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament on Saturday. Outscored 20-9 in the fourth quarter, Ohio fell to Northwestern 61-58 to end the winningest basketball season in Ohio University history.
Ohio (30-6) went further into a post-season tournament than it ever has before, but the chance to turn the season’s calendar into April evaporated at the end. Ohio led Northwestern (20-14) for nearly the entire game, until the Wildcats took a 57-56 lead with 1:09 remaining.
The Bobcats never retook the lead in the final seconds. Down three points with four seconds remaining, Ohio had the final shot. Redshirt freshman Erica Johnson’s final attempt to tie the game bricked off of the hoop and bounced away at the buzzer.
Johnson led the Bobcats with 17 points in the losing effort. Sophomore Cece Hooks followed with 15 points, and junior Amani Burke had 14. Both Hooks and Burke fouled out in the fourth quarter Ohio, holding off most of the Bobcats’ offensive attack. Ohio was called for 23 personal fouls, 10 of which came in the fourth quarter. The Wildcats were called for just 15 personal fouls the entire game.
“We’re disappointed right now, and obviously we’ll be disappointed for a few days, but at some point tomorrow the sun will rise and life will go on and we’ll have the chance to reflect,” Ohio head coach Bob Boldon said after the loss. “I think this is something the girls will look back on and be pretty proud of, I know I’m proud of them. It just hurts right now. It wasn’t a lack of effort, that’s for sure. We played a team that was a little bit better than us tonight, not a lot better, but a little bit better.”
The end of a season will never be satisfying unless it results in the raising of a trophy, but Ohio’s 2018-19 season was one for the rafters. Thirty wins broke not just the Ohio women’s record for wins in a season, but eclipsed the highest men’s total as well. The Mid-American Conference East Division Champions were the brightest team in the Convocation Center in 2019.
By the time another hoops season comes, the Ohio women will return two 1,000-point scorers, the reigning MAC Defensive Player of the Year and MAC Sixth Player of the Year, and the winningest head coach in program history.
“I think the program is in good shape, and I’m certainly excited to see what we can do moving forward,” Coach Boldon said. “This was a wonderful learning experience playing these games, these teams and in this environment. I thought [Northwestern] had a decent crowd. With the amount of kids coming back, hopefully next year we can do this in another tournament or go further in this tournament again.”
The MAC put two teams in the NCAA Tournament the last two seasons, and a strong argument exists that Ohio should have made it three teams in 2019. The Bobcats should be a strong contender again next season to make noise in the MAC and all the mid-major conference levels.
Thirty wins has never been accomplished in Athens before, but there’s no guarantee it can happen in the near future. What can be guaranteed is that Ohio will seek to find new ways to push the boundaries of success and set a new standard of Ohio basketball.