Ohio State traveled to Northwestern riding their first Big Ten winning streak of the season after beating Indiana and Wisconsin. The Buckeyes made a change to the starting lineup for this one as Amber Stokes returned to the lineup, replacing Maleeka Kynard. Stokes had missed several games back in January due to an injury and then had come off the bench to great effect in the past few games.
Ohio State opened the game cold and Northwestern took advantage to score the game first six points. OSU responded though by attacking the paint and went on a 9 to 1 run to take a 9-7 lead with thirteen and a half minutes remaining in the half. Four straight points by the Wildcats gave them back the lead and the two teams began to trade baskets for the next six minutes with neither team able to build more than a three point lead. Northwestern led 19-18 with six minutes to go in the half when Ohio State went on a run, scoring 13 straight to take a 31-19 lead with two minutes left on the clock. The run was made in part by a series of fouls by the Wildcats which sent the Buckeyes to the line and several Northwestern starters to the bench with foul trouble, forcing the Wildcats to go to their rather thin bench. The Wildcats weren’t done though, closing the half on a 7 to 2 run to cut the OSU lead to 33-26 as the two teams headed to the locker rooms.
Northwestern opened the scoring in the second half by splitting a pair of field goals before Ohio State scored a pair of baskets to extend their lead to 37-27 two and a half minutes into the half. The two teams traded baskets for the next seven minutes before the Wildcats went on a 7 to 2 run to cut the Buckeye lead to five, 47-42, but OSU would score the next six to go up 53-42 with six minutes left on the clock. Northwestern wasn’t done though, scoring seven straight of their own to make it a four point game, 53-49, with just under three minutes to go, forcing OSU to call a timeout. Neither team would managed to score for the next two minutes with the Wildcats only managing one shot in that time due to the Buckeye defense and offensive rebounding. Ohio State would get a bit of breathing room when Tayler Hill hit a layup with fifty seconds remaining and then followed it up with a pair of free throws after a missed Northwestern three pointer. The Wildcats would respond with a quick three pointer but Hill hit another pair of free throws to ice the game and give OSU the 59-52 win.
Ohio State struggled with their shooting in this one, hitting only 34% from the field and missing all six of their three point attempts. Northwestern actually out shot OSU, hit 40% from the field and 43% (6 of 14) from beyond-the-arc. The Buckeyes did win the rebounding battle, 39 to 35, but more importantly limited their turnovers, committing only 12 while coming up with 11 steals and forcing 20 Wildcat turnovers. The free throw line was also huge as OSU hit 90% of its freebies (17 of 19) while Northwestern hit only 57% of theirs (8 of 14).
After a slow start, Tayler Hill got rolling and finished with a game high 26 points and a game high 6 steals. Ashley Adams also hit double digits in scoring, putting up 13 points and grabbing 7 rebounds, though all of those boards came in the first half. Fortunately OSU didn’t suffer from Adams struggling to rebound in the second half as Darryce Moore came off the bench to grab 12 boards, 5 of them offensive. Moore scored 4 points, had 3 assists, and blocked 3 shots. Ameryst Alston had one of her best defensive games ever even as she struggled shooting, coming up with 4 steals and 4 rebounds to go with her 5 points.
After a great start to the year in terms of shooting, Ohio State has been in a bit of a slump as of late. For the most part that slump was limited to three point shooting but today it extended to the Buckeye inside game as well. At least OSU realized that the long ball wasn’t working today and adjusted by attacking inside more, leading to not only higher percentage shots but also getting Northwestern into foul trouble which is a major problem for a Wildcat team with a very thin bench.
Ohio State’s shooting struggles as of late have been countered in part by their increased focusing on taking care of the ball. After being rather turnover prone for much of the season the Buckeyes have really cut down on turnovers lately, committing only 12 tonight and limiting Northwestern to only 8 points off of those turnovers. At the same time the OSU defense has been stepping up, especially amongst the guards, and are forcing turnovers which give the team a chance to get out and run. Tonight the Buckeyes forced 20 turnovers and converted those into 19 points.
OSU’s free throw shooting also saw marked improvement today. On the season the Buckeyes have shot between 70 and 80% from the charity stripe, not something to be terribly proud of, but today they shot an impressive 90%. OSU has traditionally done a good job of drawing fouls and getting to the line and today was no exception. What was a bit unusual today was that the Buckeyes struggled a bit with fouls themselves. Normally a very careful team that rarely sends opponents to the line, though some of that this season has been due to the interior defenders often being too out-of-position to even foul, Ohio State committed an uncharacteristic nine fouls in the first half. The Buckeyes did tighten things up in the second half and committed only 5 fouls after the break, a number that is much more characteristic for them.
Once again Ohio State got a win that wasn’t pretty but a win is a win and the Buckeyes need all of those they can get at this point. OSU’s recent shooting struggles are a cause for concern but the improved focus on taking care of the ball and the resulting reduction in turnover numbers is a very encouraging sign. More importantly, it seems like this team is finally starting to figure out how to win games. For the second game in a row the Buckeyes faced either a late deficit (last game against Wisconsin) or a strong run by their opponent (tonight by the Wildcats to make it a 4 point game). Earlier in the season OSU would likely have folded when faced with that kind of pressure, see the first game against Wisconsin this season, but this time the team dug deep, fought, and found a way to win.
The Buckeyes have now won three in a row, their longest winning streak sing December and have climbed into a tie with Minnesota for 8th place in the Big Ten with a 4-7 conference record (OSU is 14-10 overall). If OSU wants to keep its winning streak going though they are going to have to step it up a level as they travel to Nebraska on Thursday. The Cornhuskers are 7-3 in the Big Ten, 17-6 overall, and are tied with Purdue for second place in the conference. Nebraska beat Ohio State by 9 two weeks ago after building a 10 point first half lead that was too much of a hurdle for the Buckeyes to overcome. OSU will look for revenge this time in a game that will tip at 9:00pm eastern on Thursday and which will be shown on BTN.