The Ohio State women’s basketball team ended the regular season by winning three straight and six of their last eight to move them back onto the bubble for the NCAA tournament. Despite the strong finish to the regular season, the Buckeyes came into the Big Ten tournament looking for a few more wins to improve their tournament resume. Ohio State was the ninth seed in the tournament and opened play against the eight seed Minnesota. The Golden Gophers swept the Buckeyes during the regular season; those wins included a heart breaker in Columbus two weeks ago.
Minnesota got out to an early 10-4 lead in the opening five minutes but Ohio State came back with a 9 to 2 run to take a 13-12 lead with eight and a half minutes remaining in the half. The Golden Gophers responded though as Big Ten scoring leader Rachel Banham hit a pair of three pointers to spark a 13 to 3 run that gave Minnesota a 25-16 lead with four minutes on the clock. Just as it seemed that the Gophers had all the momentum, the OSU defense stepped up and the Buckeyes closed the half with 8 unanswered points to cut the Minnesota lead to 25-24 as both teams headed into the break.
Neither team shot amazingly well in the first half, OSU shooting 33% to Minnesota’s 30%. The biggest difference in the first half was in three point shooting where the Golden Gophers were 4 of 10 while the Buckeyes were 0-5. The mediocre shooting led to lots of rebound opportunities and Minnesota held a narrow edge in that category, 21 to 19, which was a welcome relief for the Buckeyes after how they had been dominated on the board in their game at Minnesota in January.
After Minnesota opened the second half with a layup, Tayler Hill came back down the floor and hit the first Ohio State three pointer of the game to tie the score at 27 and to start a run of 8 straight Buckeye points to give OSU a 32-27 lead three minutes into the half. A Golden Gopher layup broke the Buckeye run for a moment but OSU went right back to it, scoring 11 straight to take a 43-29 lead with ten and a half minutes remaining in the game. After only scoring four points in the first ten minutes of the second half, Minnesota went on a 7 to 2 run to cut the OSU lead to 45-36 with six and a half minutes left in the game and to make things a bit interesting. The Buckeyes refused to let things get too interesting though as they answered every Gopher shot after that as OSU controlled the rest of the game on the way to a 58-47 win.
Ohio State finished the game shooting 36% from the field and 23% from behind the arc; the Buckeyes went 3 of 8 from three point range in the second half. Once again OSU did a great job taking care of and moving the ball, committing only 8 turnovers on the game and recording 13 assists on 19 baskets. The Buckeye defense did a great job, holding Minnesota to 30% shooting while forcing 16 turnovers and coming up with 8 blocks. OSU also did a good job on the boards as they were only outrebounded 36 to 33, which is good for the Buckeyes. The one downside today was the free throw shooting, the Buckeyes struggled a bit at the line, going 17 of 27.
Tayler Hill led Ohio State with 25 points while also adding 4 assists, 3 rebounds, a steal, and a block. Ashley Adams nearly had a double-double with 14 points and 8 rebounds. Adams was a force on both ends, shooting a great 7 of 8 on offense while blocking 4 shots on defense. Raven Ferguson added 8 points, 7 rebounds, and a pair of blocks while Ameryst Alston grabbed 10 rebounds and had 4 assists to go with 5 points.
Today’s win was sorely needed if Ohio State wants to make the NCAA tournament and hopefully the selection committee was watching on television because this was a good statement game for the Buckeyes. OSU dealt with a rough patch midway through the first half but responded but closing out the first half with 8 straight points to give themselves the momentum heading into intermission. The Buckeyes then kept that momentum going in the second half as that 8 point run before intermission became part of a 27 to 4 run over a fourteen minute stretch to seize control of the game. OSU would never give up control of the game from that point.
Everyone should really sit back and reflect on that 27 to 4 run a bit. The 27 points scored over 14 minutes isn’t really special, mostly just what you would like your offense to do. The important number is the 4 points allowed over that same time span. That was only 4 points scored in over a third of the game by a Minnesota team that only a week ago scored 89 points against a top 10 Penn State team. That was a fourteen minute stretch where the Buckeyes held Rachel Banham, the Big Ten’s leading scorer, scoreless (OSU limited Banham to 6 points in the second half after she scored 14 in the first half). That fourteen minute stretch showed just how tenacious and dangerous this OSU defense can be as the Buckeyes were all over the court, battling for loose balls, contesting shots, doing everything that coaches dream a defense will do. The Buckeyes used that defensive intensity to fuel their offense, taking advantage of turnovers and rebounds to get out and run leading to many easy layups as they beat the Gophers back down the court.
A scary moment occurred in the second half when Raven Ferguson went down with an apparent ankle injury and then had to be helped off the floor by the coaches. Ferguson went into the locker room but emerged a few minutes later and re-entered the game; she was slowed up a bit but still very much in game shape. This was a huge relief for the Buckeyes as the move of Ferguson to the four spot a few weeks ago appears to be a genius move. Ferguson gives OSU a lot more athleticism down low and that played a key role in limiting Minnesota’s scoring chances from inside. On the offensive end, Ferguson’s ability and willingness to shoot from outside stretched opposing defenses and has really opened up the inside for OSU.
Today’s win improves Ohio State’s chances of making the NCAA tournament but a win tomorrow against top seeded and 7th ranked Penn State would likely move OSU into a virtual lock for the tournament. Getting that win won’t be easy though as the Nittany Lions are the most talented team in the conference and feature a pair of great guards in Alex Bentley and Maggie Lucas and a very talented center in Nikki Greene. In their only meeting this season OSU led 37-28 at halftime in Columbus but fell apart on both ends of the court in the second half as Penn State rolled to a 71-56 win. Hopefully the Buckeyes remember that loss and are out for revenge.
While Penn State will be a tough opponent, Ohio State is a team on the upswing over the past four games and is playing with a determination that was missing for most of the season. Today the Buckeyes took an early punch to the gut but recovered and played some dominant basketball for the rest of the game. OSU has already shown they can hang with the Nittany Lions for a half, now they need to show that they can play a complete game against a top team. The game between Ohio State and Penn State will be the first game of the second session tomorrow and will tip-off at 7:00 pm on BTN.
Rest of the Big Ten
Ohio State vs Minnesota wasn’t the only game of the first day of action at the Big Ten women’s basketball tournament. The day got underway with 7th seeded Iowa controlling most of the game on their way to a 60-55 win over 10th seed Northwestern. The Hawkeyes will face second seed Nebraska tomorrow at 12:30 with Iowa trying to make a case for a spot in the NCAA tournament.
The second game between 6th seed Illinois and 11th seed Wisconsin turned out to be a much more exciting game than a lot of people probably expected. The Badgers trailed by 10 at halftime only to put on a great second half performance and with five minutes remaining Wisconsin led by 10. The Illini weren’t done though as they used a combination of good shooting and Wisconsin miscues to rally and take a 3 point lead in the final minute. Illinois’s struggles with foul trouble which have plagued them all season caught up with them at this point and Wisconsin would hit four free throws in the final minute to pull off a 58-57 win; for the game the Badgers went 21 of 21 from the charity stripe. This was a good result for OSU fans as the loss likely ends Illinois’s NCAA hopes. Wisconsin will face 3rd seed Purdue tomorrow.
Today’s final game saw 5th seed Michigan roll to a 67-40 win over 12th seed Indiana. The Wolverines will face off against 4th seed Michigan State tomorrow in a battle between instate rivals that split their regular season meetings with the road team prevailing each time.