When it comes to Ohio State sports, it is only appropriate that the regular season should end with a game against Michigan; unfortunately this rarely happens for most sports that aren’t football. This year the Big Ten scheduling computers got things right for the women’s basketball team who closed the regular season today by hosting Michigan, their only game against the Wolverines this season. The Buckeyes came into this game on a two game winning streak that had seen them play some of their best basketball of the season and they looked to keep that momentum going heading into this week’s Big Ten tournament.
After Michigan scored on the game’s first possession, the two teams traded baskets until Ohio State scored six straight to take an 11-6 lead just over six minutes into the game. The Wolverines responded with a pair of three points sandwiched around an Ameryst Alston basket to make it a one point game and then tied it at 16 a few minutes later. The Buckeyes roared back with a 10 to 2 run to take a 26-18 lead with just under six minutes remaining in the half. The teams would trade baskets for the rest of the half and Ohio State went into halftime lead 30-25.
As they did in the first half, Michigan opened the scoring in the second only to see Ohio State respond with a pair of baskets to push their lead to seven points. The Wolverines weren’t impressed though as they put on an 8 to 2 run to make it a one point game, 36-35, five and a half minutes into the second half. Following a Buckeye timeout, the two teams traded baskets before OSU managed to score five straight to give themselves a bit more comfortable of a lead. The multiple basket lead didn’t last long as the Wolverines quickly made it a one basket game, 48-45, with seven minutes remaining. The two teams traded baskets for the next two minutes and it was still a three point game with five minutes remaining. With the game hanging in the balance Ohio State refused to lose, putting together a 10 to 4 run to take a 62-53 lead with a minute to go that would put the game out of reach. The Wolverines couldn’t even make the last minute remotely interesting and in front of a season high crowd of 7,793 screaming fans, Ohio State closed out the regular season properly with a 66-55 win over the evil team from up North!
Michigan finished the game shooting a great 50% from the field, 31% from three point range. Ohio State wasn’t going to be outdone though, shooting an even better 54% from the field and 36% from beyond-the-arc. In fact it would be hard to script a better offensive game for the Buckeyes than what we saw in this one; in addition to their great shooting OSU took exceptional care of the ball, committing only 6 turnovers while recording an impressive 18 assists on 25 baskets. The Buckeye defense would come up with 7 steals while forcing 12 Wolverine turnovers. With both teams shooting so well there weren’t many rebounds up for grab and Michigan won that battle 22 to 18 for the one blemish on an otherwise great day for Ohio State.
Tayler Hill led Ohio State with 20 points and 3 steals; she also had 3 rebounds and 3 assists, all while not committing a turnover. Raven Ferguson, looking very comfortable in her new role at the four spot, added 13 points on 5 of 7 shooting. Ferguson showed that despite give up some height inside she is a fighter on the boards as she led the team with 5 rebounds while also recording 3 assists, a steal, and a block. Ameryst Alston and Ashely Adams each added 12 points. Alston went 5 of 6 shooting, including a perfect 2 of 2 from three point range, and added 4 rebounds, 2 steals, and 2 assists. Adams also had a good shooting day, going 6 of 9, while grabbing 3 rebounds, dishing out 3 assists, and blocking 2 shots. Amber Stokes put up 6 points and led the team with 4 assists while being a defensive pest all afternoon.
While it would have been nice if Ohio State could have kept Michigan’s shooting more in check, that didn’t really matter as the Buckeyes played their best offensive game of the season. Yes, OSU has scored more points this season but their offense has never been this efficient or looked this smooth. The Buckeyes shot the ball exceptionally well, over 50%, and they did a great job of moving the ball, every coach would be thrilled with 18 assists on 25 baskets. Even with all that ball movement, OSU didn’t get sloppy, committing only 6 turnovers.
While Tayler Hill did her usual job of leading the Buckeyes in scoring, this was the third game in a row where OSU played great team basketball. In all three games of OSU’s current three game winning streak at least three players have hit double digits in scoring, much more balance than the Tayler Hill show which was the primary component of the Buckeye offense for much of the Big Ten season. Rebounding is also showing great balance in these recent games and the guards have been doing a good job of hitting the boards and coming down with rebounds; this increase in athletic rebounding has helped to offset the issues with boxing out that have plagued the Buckeyes for the past two seasons. This more balanced attack has made the OSU offense far more dangerous and has even made Hill more dangerous as teams can’t entirely key on her anymore.
Foster’s decision to shift Raven Ferguson to the four spot appears to be a good one. While this move means we give up some size on the inside, it also increases the athleticism that we have on the interior. The fact that Ferguson can also shoot from the outside means that opposing defenses have a harder time packing the middle, opening up lanes to attack the basket off the dribble and giving Ashley Adams room to work. Stretching the defense also makes it easier for the guards to go after rebounds since they are not battling with post players who have already established position on the inside.
Following the game, Ohio State honored its senior players and student managers with a ceremony on the court. The OSU senior class of Emilee Harmon, Tayler Hill, Brianna Sanders (former player turned student assistant coach after a knee injury ended her career in 2011), and Amber Stokes has combined for 97 wins over the past four years, a regular season Big Ten championship, two Big Ten tournament championships, and a Sweet 16 appearance. A video of the Senior Day Ceremony is available from the OSU athletics department and is worth a watch for those who weren’t at the game.
With this win Ohio State closed out the regular season on a three game winning streak where they have been playing their best basketball of the season. Today’s win also improved OSU all-time record against Michigan to 49-9, talk about dominance, and improves Foster’s record against Michigan to 16-3. All that doesn’t matter now though as the Buckeyes have to get prepared for the Big Ten tournament where for they will have to play on the first day after years of earning a first day bye. OSU will be the #9 seed in the tournament and will face #8 seed Minnesota at 7pm on Thursday in a game that will be televised on BTN. A month ago OSU’s NCAA tournaments seemed essentially gone but after winning 6 of their last 8, they are back in the conversation for an at-large spot and a win over the Golden Gophers would give them a reasonable chance of making the tournament; a win over the Gophers and then over a top ten Penn State in the second round would pretty much guarantee the Buckeyes a spot. OSU will be going into the tournament on a good streak, having rediscovered their shot over the past three games and having held their opponent to 60 points or less in their last 8 games. Look for a preview of the Big Ten tournament on Wednesday.