After finally getting their first Big Ten win two weeks ago, Ohio State has lost two straight. The first loss was to hapless Wisconsin while the second was to a top 10 Penn State squad; the common aspect of both losses was disastrous second half collapses where the normally hot shooting Buckeyes couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn. OSU’s 11-9 overall, 1-6 Big Ten, record made this game a must win if the Buckeyes want to make the NCAA tournament. The importance of this game was not lost on Coach Foster who tinkered with his starting lineup, inserting Maleeka Kynard and Aleksandra Dobranic into the lineup next to Tayler Hill, Ameryst Alston, and Ashley Adams.
In another new twist, Ohio State opened in a zone defense struggled to match-up well on the perimeter and Nebraska took advantage by hitting a quick trio of three pointers to take an 11-4 lead six and a half minutes into the game. The Buckeyes responded though, capitalizing on some Nebraska turnovers to score 7 straight points, tying the game at 11 midway through the first half. The two teams would go back and forth for the next several minutes before the Cornhuskers went on 10-0 run to take a 34-21 lead with eighteen seconds remaining in the half. Tayler Hill would convert an old fashioned three point play in the closing sections to trim the Nebraska lead to 34-24 as the teams headed into the locker rooms.
Ohio State did not have a great shooting first half, hitting only 35% of their shots and going 0 of 7 from beyond the arc. The Buckeyes continued to struggle with turnovers, losing the ball 10 times leading to 11 points for the Cornhuskers. Defensively OSU struggled, only forcing 5 turnovers while allowing Nebraska to hit 40% of their shots including 5 three pointers. The one positive from the first half was the Buckeyes did a much better job of boxing out than they had for much of the past year and a half, resulting in them out-rebounding the Cornhuskers 19 to 14.
Ohio State looked much better to start the second half, hitting their first two baskets to cut the Nebraska lead to 34-28 just over a minute into the half. Unfortunately Nebraska got their offense going at that point and the two teams began trading baskets. Several times OSU would start to put things together and get the Nebraska lead down to 6 only to see the Cornhuskers respond with some well-timed baskets that kept the Buckeyes at arm’s reach as Nebraska pulled off the 62-53 win.
Ohio State’s shooting didn’t get any better in the second half and the Buckeyes finished the game shooting 38% from the field and 8% from three point range. OSU did cut down on the turnovers, committing only 6 after intermission to finish with 16 and the Buckeyes won the rebounding battle 35 to 28. Unfortunately the OSU defense couldn’t stop Nebraska as the Cornhuskers were 44% from the field and 9 of 25 from beyond-the-arc.
Tayler Hill led the Buckeyes with 22 points and 6 assists while also pulling down 5 rebounds and 2 steals. She was joined in double figures by center Ashley Adams who had a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. In her second game back from injury Amber Stokes came off the bench to score 6 points, dish out 3 assists, and come up with 3 rebounds and a steal.
At this point in the season it appears that the wheels have fallen off for Ohio State. While they have been in a slump for the past 5 weeks, the Buckeyes had at least been shooting well, over 40%, in most of their losses. Unfortunately, whether it is due to lack of confidence or something else, OSU’s shooting has fallen apart over the past three games and the Buckeye defense is not good enough to win games without at least some help from the offense. Coach Foster attempted to fix some of the issues with the defense by playing a zone tonight but it was clear from the outset that the Buckeyes were having trouble matching up on the perimeter and Nebraska took advantage by draining three pointers. Despite Nebraska’s success from beyond-the-arc, Foster never adjusted the defense and the result was the Cornhusker’s being able to answer every Buckeye run in the second half.
Throughout much of the early part of the season various Buckeyes looked like they could step up and provide additional scoring threats to make for a more well-rounded offense. There were pretty much no signs of that tonight as Hill and Adams had to carry most of the load and that seemed to take a toll on the two as they both looked tired as the second half wore on. Hill has done an admirable job of trying to carry this team on her back this season and considering she is the Big Ten’s leading scorer it is easy to say that she has done her share. It is now time for other people, especially the younger players to step up.
Winning out and a good run in the Big Ten tournament could still get Ohio State a berth in the NCAA tournament but there is no margin for error left and the Buckeyes need to turn this around now. OSU will get one of their best remaining chances for a win on Sunday as they travel to Bloomington to take on Indiana. The Buckeyes beat the Hoosiers 68-45 two weeks ago in Columbus but this OSU team looks like a shell of its former self, maybe another game against Indiana is what it will take to right the ship.