After having the weekend off, Ohio State came into tonight’s game against Minnesota looking to rebound from their disastrous offensive performance in the second half of last Thursday’s loss to Nebraska. With a 14-11 record coming into this game and only four games remaining in the regular season, the sense of urgency for the Buckeyes was off the charts as they needed to win out in order to have any hope of making the NCAA tournament as an at-large selection.
Ohio State’s recent shooting woes reared their ugly head at the start of tonight’s game as the Buckeyes struggled to make any shot. Fortunately for OSU, a series of turnovers and fouls by Minnesota prevented the Golden Gophers from taking full advantage and the game was tied at 8 seven minutes into the first half. At this point Minnesota started to clean up its sloppy play, taking care of the ball and cutting down on turnovers which fueled a 11 to 2 to give the Gophers a 19-10 lead with just under eight minutes remaining in the half. The Buckeyes finally managed to stop the skid, forcing some turnovers and drawing a few fouls to help them slowly cut into the deficit and only trail 24-20 with just over a minute remaining in the half. OSU would miss a couple scoring opportunities in the final minute and the Gophers would make the final basket of the half to lead 26-20 at the break.
Ohio State showed good shot selection in the first half but just couldn’t get their shots to go down, 19% from the field and 0-6 from three point range. Despite their poor shooting, Ohio State stayed in the game thanks to taking care of the ball, only committing 5 turnovers, forcing 9 Minnesota turnovers, and going 8 of 10 from the free throw line. The Buckeyes did a pretty good job on the boards and even came down with 8 offensive rebounds but their poor shooting prevented them from taking advantage of their second chance points.
The second half started with the two teams trading baskets for the first five minutes before Ohio State finally saw a nice spark from their offense as they scored 6 straight points to tie the game at 35 six and a half minutes into the second half. Minnesota was not impressed though and responded with an 8 to 0 run of their own to retake a 43-35 just a minute and a half later. The teams resumed trading basket and with just over seven minutes to play, Ohio State trailed 50-42. At this point the Buckeye defense stiffened and the offense took advantage, scoring six straight to make it a one possession game, 50-48, with four minutes left on the clock. The OSU offense went cold again and the Gophers got to the free throw line several times over the next three minutes to extend their lead to 55-50 with a minute remaining. Things looked bleak for the Buckeyes before Raven Ferguson hit a three pointer with 19 seconds remaining, stole the ball on the next Minnesota possession and raced down the court to hit another three pointer to put OSU up 56-55 with five seconds to play. The small crowd of under 3,000 was on their feet at this point and it looked like the Buckeyes were going to pull off a remarkable comeback but Ferguson’s heroics would go to waste as OSU failed to challenge the Gophers as they raced the ball up the floor and Minnesota star Rachel Banham hit an off balance jumper to hand Ohio State a 57-56 defeat.
Ohio State’s shooting improved noticeably in the second half but they still finished the game only hitting 31% from the field and going 3 of 16 from beyond-the-arc. The Buckeyes did a good job on the boards, tying Minnesota with 33 rebounds and grabbing 12 offensive boards but they couldn’t turn those second chance opportunities into points. The OSU defense struggled to shut down Minnesota’s shooting, allowing the Gophers to shot 42%, but the Buckeye defense did a great job in forcing 18 Gopher turnovers while OSU only committed 11 of their own.
Tayler Hill led the way for Ohio State scoring 25 points; Hill struggled with her shooting but had an incredible day from the charity stripe, hitting all 14 of her free throws to set a school record. Hill’s points give her 1912 for her career, tying her for fifth place on Ohio State’s career list with former two time All-American Tracey Hall. Amber Stokes and Raven Ferguson each added 10 points. Stokes had 3 assists and 3 steals while Ferguson may have moved herself into a starting job at the four spot by also grabbing 7 boards.
At this point it is hard to know just what to say about this team. Tonight they took good shots but they didn’t fall, they had opportunities but couldn’t capitalize, they would play great defense and then have stretches where they’d lose focus. For the second straight game Ohio State held a Big Ten opponent below 60 points and they still lost, you can’t be scoring less than 60 points when you are trying to climb back into NCAA tournament contention. As easy as it would be to blame this loss solely on the poor shooting and lack of scoring, the Buckeyes did have the lead with five seconds left and the defense didn’t properly challenge Minnesota when they were bringing the ball up the court. I am not sure what needs to be done at this point to get the team winning again, how do you fix things when an entire team is in a prolonged shooting slump?
Tonight’s loss dropped Ohio State to 14-12 overall, 4-8 in the Big Ten and likely eliminated any shot that OSU had for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament; the only way the Buckeyes could get an at-large at this point would probably be if they win out, managed to beat both Penn State and Purdue in the Big Ten Tournament, and then lost a close one to Nebraska in the tournament title game. Realistically OSU will have to win the Big Ten Tournament in order to actually make the NCAA tournament which they are hosting this year. A three game winning streak at the start of February made it look like OSU was turning things around, back-to-back losses have shown that isn’t the case and the offense has actually found a new low. The Buckeyes will need to figure out how to turn things around quick as they host Michigan State on Monday in a game that will be shown on BTN starting at 6:30pm.