After a heart breaking overtime loss at Iowa on Thursday, the Ohio State women’s basketball team looked to get back on the winning track as they hosted Illinois. Despite coming in with a 7-6 record, the Illini were a dangerous team which had handed a top 10 Georgia team a double digit loss less than two weeks ago.
The game started off as a back and forth affair and Illinois led 11-10 through six minutes of action. A quick 9 to 2 run by the Illini stretched that lead to 20-12 in a span of about two minutes and had Ohio State fans very uneasy. Buckeye forward Darryce Moore wasn’t feeling uneasy though and hit a pair of back-to-back baskets to fire up the team and OSU scored sixteen straight to take a 28-20 lead with four minutes remaining in the half. After a timeout, Illinois nailed a three pointer to cut the lead to five and the two teams traded baskets the rest of the half with OSU heading into the locker room up 35-31.
Illinois hit the first two baskets of the second half to tie the game but Ohio State responded with five points to retake the lead. The Illini responded and tied the game at 41 with fifteen minutes left on the clock. Illinois briefly took a lead but OSU responded with 8 unanswered to take a 49-43 lead. The two teams would trade baskets for the next several minutes with Illinois getting as close as two points before Ohio State pushed the margin back to a more comfortable 5, 59-54, with just under six minutes remaining. A 7-0 run gave Illinois a 61-59 lead and sparked an exciting final four minutes of action. Twice Tayler Hill knocked down a pair of free throws only to see Illinois retake the lead and with two minutes remaining on the clock, OSU trailed 68-67. At this point things went horribly wrong as Darryce Moore reacted badly to being called for a four, earning a technical foul and sending Illinois to the line for a total of four shots. The Illini hit three of the shots to take a four point lead which would extend to six on their next possession. A Tayler Hill three pointer made the game 73-70 with just over a minute to play and OSU looked to have a chance. However, the Buckeye defense couldn’t get a rebound after a missed Illini shot and Illinois used their second chance to make it a five point game and force OSU to foul. The Ilini knocked down their shots down the stretch to hand Ohio State a 79-73 defeat.
Ohio State shot well, hitting 45% of their shots from the field, though their 29% from three point range could have been better. The Buckeyes struggled mightily from the free throw line, going 16 of 25. OSU did a great job of moving the ball, tallying 22 assists, but, as evidenced by their 20 turnovers, they weren’t always clean and crisp with that ball movement. The OSU defense had a less than stellar performance, allowing Illinois to hit 45% of their shots and losing the rebounding battle 32 to 28.
Tayler Hill led Ohio State with 30 points, making this the second straight game where Hill scored at lead thirty. Hill added 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, and a block but committed 3 turnovers. Ashley Adams added 11 points but struggled on the boards, only grabbing one rebound. Darryce Moore gave a great performance off the bench, scoring 17 points and adding a six high team rebounds; unfortunately that was all forgotten when she allowed her emotions to get the better of her late in the game which got her called for a technical foul which led to some key free throws for Illinois.
Turnovers were a major key to this game and one would expect the fact that Ohio State forced 19 turnovers to lead to a Buckeye win; unfortunately OSU turned the ball over 20 times themselves. After a solid performance in the non-conference portion of the schedule, the youth and inexperience of freshman point guard Ameryst Alston showed in this one as she committed 7 turnovers, though she did add 4 assists. Alston will get better at dealing with tough Big Ten defenses but there will be some growing pains, like tonight, and the rest of the team will need to take better care of the ball in order to keep those growing pains from being too costly; five other Buckeyes had at least 2 turnovers tonight.
The loss wasn’t even the worst part of the night, that came in the middle of the game when senior guard Amber Stokes fell to the floor, clutching her knee in obvious pain. Stokes was taken off the floor and never returned to the game. In his post-game press conference, Coach Foster said that Stokes had at least a sprained knee and that he would learn more about the extent of the injury tomorrow. This was a major blow to the team as it means the Buckeyes will lose their best defender for at least a few weeks, if not longer. Foster announced that freshman guard Cait Craft, sister of men’s basketball player Aaron, will be called upon to replace Stokes. Craft has only seen limited action so far this season but has played sound defense when she has been on the court.
Coach Foster surprised a lot of people tonight as he didn’t go to a short bench, as he often has done in tight games over the years. Eleven Buckeyes saw the floor, all but one of them for at least 10 minutes. The extra use of the bench so far this season will prove important in the coming weeks as the injury to Stokes will likely lead to some shuffling of lineups and additional playing time for at least all of the guards, if not the entire bench.
Tonight’s loss drops Ohio State to 0-2 in the Big Ten and the Buckeyes still haven’t faced any of the teams that were expected to be at the top of the conference. A conference title suddenly is no longer OSU’s primary concern; instead they now need to be worried about earning a first day bye in the Big Ten tournament and making the NCAA tournament. A lot of factors went into tonight’s loss and most of them had present in other games this season. OSU has struggled with free throws in a couple games this year and issues with effectively boxing out and rebounding have plagued the team for the past season and a half. Turnovers have also been an issue at times this season, as was expected due to the need to get used to a new point guard. The team has overcome all of these issues at times this season but tonight they all occurred at once, along with a technical foul at the worst possible time, and proved too much for OSU to overcome. The loss also unfortunately snapped OSU’s 31 game home winning streak which had been the second longest active streak in the nation behind Baylor.
Ohio State will return to action on Thursday when they travel to Minnesota in what will be a crucial game. The Golden Gophers are 1-1 in the Big Ten, having lost to Michigan State and beaten Wisconsin.