Ohio State entered tonight’s game looking to break their three game losing streak and avoid getting off to their worst ever start in Big Ten play. That task wasn’t an easy one as the Buckeyes would be playing at #12 Purdue without starting guard, and best defensive player on the team, Amber Stokes. OSU’s job got even harder when before the game it was revealed that star guard Tayler Hill and sophomore guard Maleeka Kynard would also miss the game due to illness. The missing players forced a different starting lineup, with Ashley Adams, Darryce Moore, Ameryst Alston, Raven Ferguson, and Cait Craft getting the starting nod; this was the first career start for Craft.
After scoring the first basket of the game, the Ohio State offense struggled and the Buckeyes found themselves in a 14-5 hole eight minutes into the game. The next four minutes would see the two teams trade baskets before OSU scored seven straight to pull within one point, 19-18, with six and a half minutes remaining in the half. The Boilermakers answered right back though, scoring nine unanswered to extend their lead to 10. Ohio State chipped away a bit of that lead in the final two minutes but went into halftime trailing 30-24.
Just as in the first half, Ohio State scored the first basket of the second half and then watched while Purdue went on a run; this time it was a seven point run that put the Boilermakers up 37-26 just two and half minutes into the second half. The two teams traded baskets for the next five minutes but Purdue was able to grow its lead to 14 during that time. Things were looking bad for Ohio State and it seemed like Purdue was heading for a blowout win when the Buckeye offense and defense finally came to life. Over the next nine minutes, OSU went on a 20 to 6 run that tied the game at 51 with just under four minutes remaining. A three pointer by Cait Craft on their next possession gave Ohio State a three point lead but Purdue responded with a 3 of their own. Each team would get a shot at the free throw line, each would hit only one of their two shots, and then each team would miss several opportunities to score over the final two minutes to send the game to overtime with the score tied at 55.
The first overtime was a tight back and forth affair with neither team able to build any sort of cushion and when the five minutes were up, the score was tied at 60 forcing a second overtime. After giving up an early basket to start overtime number two, Ohio State scored 8 straight to take what appeared to be a comfortable 68-62 lead with two minutes remaining. That lead wouldn’t be enough though as the Buckeye offense shutdown and the Boilermakers scored the final six points of the period to force overtime three. OSU opened the third overtime with a pair of free throws by Ameryst Alston but that would be it for the Buckeyes as the Boilermakers dominated the rest of the period on their way to an 82-75 win.
Overall this was not one of the better shooting days for Ohio State as they hit 36% of their shots from the floor and 26% from beyond the arc. The Buckeyes did move the ball well, tallying 19 assists on 28 baskets, but they also committed 20 turnovers. Purdue shot a much better 43% from the field, both inside and outside the arc. The Boilermakers did turn the ball over 22 times but also recorded and impressive 11 blocks. The Buckeyes did win the rebounding battle, 48 to 41, which is a nice accomplishment against a Purdue team with a good frontcourt.
The absence of Tayler Hill raised serious questions regarding where Ohio State’s scoring would come from. Freshman point guard Ameryst Alston, fresh off of a career high in her previous game, definitively answered that question by scoring 24 points for a new career high. Alston did most of her damage from inside the arc but did hit a pair of three points. Alston also added 5 assists and 6 rebounds but did commit 8 turnovers. Forward Darryce Moore and guard Raven Ferguson each added 16 points, further cementing their place as major offensive contributors to the team. Moore recorded a double-double with 12 rebounds; she also had 4 assists and 3 steals. Ashley Adams recorded 7 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists but fouled out despite only seeing the floor for 17 minutes.
It is hard to have any sort of a positive attitude when your team is now off to their worst ever start in conference play but tonight was probably as close to a moral victory as I am willing to believe in, and I in general hate the idea of moral victories. Ohio State came into this game on a three game skid and were without their best offensive and defensive players, as well as missing their backup point guard. The OSU starting lineup featured two freshmen, one in her first ever start, and they were on the road, in a hostile Mackey Arena, taking the 12th best team in the country. Before the game I would have said that the Buckeyes would be lucky to only lose by single digits but OSU far surpassed that, forcing three overtimes and almost pulling off a victory in the second overtime. The loss hurts, and it should because of how close the team was but there were many positives to take away from this game.
After scoring career highs in two straight games, Ameryst Alston now has to be considered a serious scoring threat. Combine that with Raven Ferguson showing that she is a consistent threat to put up double digits in scoring and suddenly opposing defenses are going to have to make some tough choices; do they continue to try and focus on Tayler Hill, giving Alston and Ferguson opportunities, or do they ease up on Hill and let her kill them. In the frontcourt, Darryce Moore is quickly emerging a s a major scoring threat and tonight showed that she can also make an impact on the board. In her first ever start, Cait Craft managed to come up with 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals, possibly providing a hint that she also has the Craft families swiping skills. Craft went 1 of 8 shooting, all from behind the arc, and while this needs to improve, it is nice to see that she is not scared to shoot and hopefully her accuracy will come with time.
A loss is still a loss and Ohio State desperately needs to get out of this skid, but at least the team and fans should have some confidence that this team is not lost without Tayler Hill. Without Hill they took a very good Purdue team to three overtimes and if Hill had played, her three point shooting ability could very well have given OSU the win as the Boilermakers did a good job defending inside, as evidenced by their 11 blocks. OSU will get another chance to break their losing streak on Thursday as they host Indiana in what will be a must win game for the team.